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    Teacher of the Year: Seipt brings history back to the future

    J. Michael Lunsford Middle history teacher Mitchell Seipt has quite the collection of knick-knacks in the corner of his classroom, which he wants to feel like a home for students. The armchair, lamp and carpet in the corner opposite to the one pictured here aid the ambiance.Times-Mirror/Anna Harris
    In Mitchell Seipt's classroom are many objects.

    An entire corner is dedicated to bookshelves full of presidential bobble-heads and Pez dispensers, photos from his family's distant history and books.

    A rabbit in Revolutionary War garb stands on top of the bookshelf.

    Two president dolls sit side-by-side, originally loaded with 30 or 40 sayings that haven't been uttered since the batteries died from overuse.

    The walls are covered with inspirational T-shirt quotes referencing history and U.S. law.

    The room manifests the man. Seipt has been teaching U.S. history at J. Lunsford Elementary in Chantilly for four years, and he's preparing to pursue a degree in school administration.

    The names and dates are secondary. The curriculum developed collaboratively between the sixth-grade history teachers focuses on developing skills for critical thinking by forcing students to have an opinion and back it up with facts.

    “This is where they get to explore history, this is where they get to develop that love and that interest, and if they come out of my classroom in sixth grade bored with history, they're going to give up on it forever,” Seipt said. “We want them asking why … We try to pose the un-Googleable questions.”

    Milestone scenarios, of sorts, run through the year, designed to connect the students to historical events and concepts on an emotional level.

    For eight years, Seipt has started the school year with a lie. Working with the school's principal, he tells the class on their first day that they have to pay for any photocopies they receive.

    After the ensuing outcry of injustice from the class, Seipt explains the lie and uses the episode to jump into the concept of taxation without representation and the U.S. Revolutionary War.

    “They don't understand taxes because it doesn't effect them,” he said. “So, suddenly they have that emotional connection, emotional response to something they remember. They can link back to that emotional experience and tie all the rest of the content into it. Like an anchor point for future understanding.”

    Seipt's teaching career is a far-cry from the expectations of his childhood.

    He comes from a 300-year-old line of Philadelphia dairy farmers. He didn't become a farmer. And he didn't go to Pennsylvania State University like the rest of his family.

    He attended the University of Virginia to study political science, thinking he might one day be a Senator or a Congressman. After hearing a Louisiana teacher of the year speak at an event, he changed his major the next day and enrolled in the education courses. He has never looked back.

    Now he's finishing up his eighth year teaching in Loudoun, where he lives with his two sons and daughter, wife and dog Buster.

    “I see what I do every day as a civic duty and responsibility,” he said of his teaching. “These kids, as scary as it is, are going to be running the show. The cliché is if you don't learn from your history you're doomed to repeat it. Let's not doom them to repeat the mistakes of the past. Figure it out. And figure out where you stand and what you believe, how you think about things now so that when you're an adult and in college and in a career you can have that thought pattern already set up.”

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