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Do You Know? Judy Hirshey

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Photos by Kelly Sue Photography

DYK-Judy-at-DoorTeachers who go beyond the textbooks and tests are driven by their dedication to mentor students; these are the teachers we want in our schools, the people we hope to surround our children with. Judy Hirshey is that kind of teacher. Surrounded by bustling teenagers, slamming lockers, and the sound of the tardy bell, Postcards Magazine went back to school to talk to history teacher Judy Hirshey. With over 30 years’ experience as an educator, Mrs. Hirshey is completely in her element surrounded by the student desks and educational posters in her classroom. She came to Conroe High School 12 years ago and started the AP European History program there. She also teaches AP World History. AP, or “Advanced Placement,” is a program of college-level courses offered at many high schools. Judy has a passion for teaching and is cherished by students and faculty alike. Team teacher Sabrina Westerfeld says, “Mrs. Hirshey is amazing to work with! Her passion for teaching history is evident in her vast knowledge of the content and, most importantly, her dedication to doing everything she can to help her students be successful and better prepared for college.”

Since graduating from the University of Rhode Island, Judy has always been a teacher, and even met her husband Gary when the two of them coached track together. Gary is a retired economics teacher and tennis coach. They have been married for 36 years and have a son and daughter, along with two young grandsons. Judy’s face lights up when she talks about her family, but when she talks about her students, you quickly realize teaching is her passion. Former student Candice Nichols says, “Mrs. Hirshey is very passionate about everything she teaches. She would get so excited, so loud, that the other teachers would ask her to please shut her door. Mrs. Hirshey was an extremely good teacher because of her excitement, but she wasn’t just passionate about the subject—she was passionate about all her students.”

How did you decide you wanted to be a teacher and the subject you wanted to teach?

DYK-Wall-PosterI have always loved history. I was in college majoring in history, and it was the 70s. Everyone wanted to make a difference, including me. I wanted to be a lawyer and try Supreme Court cases, but I realized I would only have maybe one case per year, so how much impact would that really have? I felt one of the biggest problems we had was prejudice. Prejudice is really all about fear, and knowledge is the best way to fight fear, so I figured teaching was the best way to fight prejudice.

What do you find to be the hardest part about teaching?

Our students do everything, from band to football, cheerleading, and theater. They are spread so thin, and they put so much pressure on themselves. They often feel defeated if they don’t make an A. I want them to understand they are not defined by their grades. Helping them to learn how to budget their time is probably the biggest challenge.

What brings you the most joy?

DYK-Teacher-of-YearAP History is a very difficult and overwhelming class, even for those students who generally do well in school. If I can help my students work through the tough times and succeed, they realize they can do it! They get such a boost in their self-confidence when they persevere and succeed in something difficult. It’s not the historical details, but getting that boost of self-confidence that matters most. Confidence like that will last them through everything and anything they do in life. I love seeing the students work through difficulty and succeed.

What are you most passionate about?

My biggest passion is my students. I love watching them find things out and discover things for themselves. They always ask for my perspective on current events and politics. I turn it around and ask them what they think, and more importantly why they think that. You’re not allowed to have an opinion unless you can give me a reason why you think that way. I teach my students to be bold—to not be afraid to give an opinion.

I run into former students everywhere, no matter where I am, and I love to see the way they have grown and flourished.

How has teaching changed for you in the last three, almost four, decades?

DYK-Judy-at-DeskTechnology is the biggest change. Media plays a big part in history and, along with technology, it has changed the way we get news. Instead of just a picture, now I can show video of several different aspects and perspectives of a current event.

The students are basically the same. They have been the same whether I was teaching in the inner city or the barrio or teaching the white middle-class. No matter where I have taught, the students want their teachers to recognize they’re good people who have something to offer. Everyone wants recognition, to be somebody. While the kids have not changed, the expectations they live with have changed drastically. They are spread so thin, with such an emphasis on being in many different groups, clubs, and sports. They push themselves so much harder than we used to at their age. We expect kids to be involved in everything. I have students who don’t go home from school until eight o’clock, and then they have three hours of homework. Then they have to eat dinner, and they have to sleep, so a lot of times these kids aren’t going to bed until twelve or one in the morning, then trying to get up and come to school the next day to do it all over again. They are pulled in so many directions.

How has administration affected your teaching?

DYK-TextbookI have always been lucky enough to have administrators who put students first. We are all on the same team working to ensure each student has access to the best education possible. At Conroe High, we have a great academic program with the Health and Science Academy. This program allows students to observe doctors, veterinarians, and others to help the students prepare for their chosen careers.

Conroe High School also offers excellent vocational opportunities with programs in Cosmetology, Culinary Arts, Auto Tech, and more. Many high schools, like CHS, are leaning toward partnerships with junior colleges like Lone Star. We’ve done that here, and it’s a good option for many students. They can graduate high school with some college credits.

You taught in many different places in different socio-economic areas; how is teaching in Conroe different?

There really are no major differences. Students just want someone to care about them. It is so much fun, and the kids are just amazing. They’re like sponges, soaking up all the information they can get. I just love it here.

As far as Conroe being different, there is no difference. Kids are the same all over; they have good hearts and want to do well.

Do your experiences of historical events affect your teaching of them?

Sure. Teaching 9/11 is so hard; it is so fresh in my mind. But, I also remember when Dr. King was assassinated. I get to tell them how people reacted to these events and can be a primary source on some of the more modern historical events. But, I like to present them with a variety of perspectives and teach them to question why each perspective is different.

DYK-Ceramic-PotWhat would you tell someone considering becoming a teacher?

I would tell anyone that if you want to make a real difference in this world, teach. It is so important, and you will never get bored. If you can convince your students they have something valuable to offer and they are important, they will be able to accomplish anything.

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