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World studies teacher illustrates the past so students understand the present

The new world studies teacher at Hastings High School has a passion for history. His journey to becoming a teacher though, can be traced back to his love of ultimate frisbee.

Derek Fairbanks, a 2007 graduate of Hastings High School, had always loved playing ultimate frisbee, but there wasn't an organized team when he was in high school. Once he graduated, a team was organized, and he decided to coach.

Fairbanks was going to the University of Minnesota getting a degree in history, but he didn't know what he was going to do with a history degree. Then he had a realization through coaching the ultimate frisbee team.

"I really loved working with teens and just teaching them, helping them learn and grow, so I went back. I have my masters in education from the University of Minnesota," Fairbanks said.

Teaching at the same high school he attended was a little odd at first. He was suddenly on a first-name basis with former teachers and speaking with them on a peer level. Fairbanks said it is nice because he is familiar with the building, the environment and the people.

Last year Fairbanks was a long-term substitute at Hastings High School, and this year he was hired on full-time. After having the experience as a long-term substitute, Fairbanks said he has been concentrated on his organization and being as consistent as he can for his students. He wants to be the best teacher he can be for them.

One way Fairbanks tries to engage his students is through the use of stories. He doesn't focus on dates and times, but rather on the concept of what happened in history. He sees himself as a storytelling teacher of sorts, and said he tries to illustrate as much as he can with his words.

"The story, I think, is the thing that I try to get across, and I try to paint that picture with my words," Fairbanks said.

One way he has used illustration in the classroom is by bringing in copies of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" in ancient Greek while they were studying the Trojan War. He read the first introduction into "Iliad" in Greek.

"The biggest thing for me is that whole idea of me trying to portray this idea that this isn't just specific dates and times, but this is the story of our past and how does that relate to our today," Fairbanks said.

Not every student is thrilled about learning history, but Fairbanks said he hopes his students will be able to at least be engaged. He hopes his students will be able to take the perspective of learning about the past, watching the news and understanding why things happen in current events.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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