Nearly every person on the planet has faced new and difficult challenges during this unprecedented time of chaos and confusion. But for this year’s retiring teachers, the situation is uniquely impactful. Rather than seeing out their final year with retirement parties and in-person goodbyes to their last class of students, our teachers are instead having to make do with remote farewells. With this in mind, the staff of Headlight wishes to ensure that our retiring teachers are properly recognized for the time, energy, and devotion they have dedicated to us each and every day.
I had the chance to reach out to Melissa Humphrey, who has taught in the Social Studies department at Marblehead High School for the past 25 years. A teacher of AP United States Government and Politics at the high school, as well as United States History, Ms. Humphrey shared with me that she did not actually begin her career in academia: “Teaching was a career change for me. After working for several years in the private sector and in government, I decided to turn my passions for history, government and politics into teaching. Teaching seemed the natural way to share and hopefully pass on my enthusiasm for these important subjects.”
In my experience, Ms. Humphrey certainly has given us opportunities to find excitement in the political world. Every one of her classes begins with a period called “Current Events,” during which students are free to share any and all recent news stories that they have stumbled upon—so long as they are up to speed on the details of the event, that is. Along with pushing us to keep up with the world around us, the time to share current events keeps us constantly aware that the information we are learning is directly applicable to real life.
But the connection between Ms. Humphrey’s class and the real world goes even further. Every year, Ms. Humphrey makes it a point to take her students down to the Community Center to vote. This year was no different, as Massachusetts’ 2020 presidential primary elections took place before school closure. Reflecting on her favorite memories as a teacher, Ms. Humphrey says that “Taking students to vote for the first time is always a thrill. A number of years ago, a student came out from voting for the first time and said it was ‘the greatest thing she had ever done’ only to be topped a few months later when the same student served on a jury for the first time. That then became the ‘greatest experience.’ Civic engagement is so important!”
Ms. Humphrey’s advice to her students follows a similar vein. She constantly reminds us that keeping up with the news and participating in elections should not stop once we leave her class. As she shared: “I would encourage all my students to stay informed and stay engaged. VOTE! I have always stressed the importance of civic engagement at all levels. Don’t just vote in presidential and congressional elections. Vote in state elections AND local elections. They are all important, and they all matter to our daily lives.”
That said, while instilling such a mentality in her students is undoubtedly a vital aspect of the job, Ms. Humphrey also admits that she has “learned not to take myself too seriously. Teachers have to have a sense of humor since things are often not going to go as planned.” In fact, she shared a particularly unexpected moment with me, saying “On another day while teaching AP U.S. History, I enthusiastically jumped on the bottom rung of my podium, only to have it collapse. All was well, but we continued to laugh about it throughout the year.” On a more sentimental note, Ms. Humphrey reflected on a year when “students recreated a scene from the film, Dead Poets Society. While I am not sure that many of them had watched the movie or understood the context of the scene, it was really moving as they all stood on their chairs, and desks, on the last day of their AP U.S. Government and Politics class and recited the line from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Oh Captain, my Captain.” It definitely brought a tear to my eye, which does happen every year as I say goodbye to my seniors.” Disappointingly, this year’s senior class was unable to say goodbye to Ms. Humphrey in person, but I am not sure that we could have beaten such a dramatic sendoff.
To end the interview, I asked Ms. Humphrey to name her favorite part of being a teacher. She answered: “My students without a doubt. I have had the opportunity to get to know, and once again, to hopefully influence many young people. I have also learned from my students on a regular basis. They have definitely kept me up-to-date on current social and cultural references.” Whatever she may have learned from us, I can say with certainty that we learned infinitely more from her. So, we may not have the chance to gather in a classroom to say it, but thank you for everything, Ms. Humphrey. This year may have been cut short, but it certainly was a good one.