University High School teacher Bob Fitzgerald has been named one of thirty state finalists for the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The following is a reflection on Fitzgerald’s teaching style by his colleague Kate Pole, U-High Social Studies Department co-chair.
There is a small, not-so-secret contingent of University High School students who shudder at the mere mention of the name “Dr. Fitz.” Even the shadow of his signature gait coming down the hallway, head bobbing from side to side, can send these students into a fit of deference. You see, Dr. Fitz–known by some as Bob Fitzgerald–is the Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History teacher. And his is not a class for the faint of heart.
Like any AP class, the pace and sheer volume of content Bob must teach is formidable. But this isn’t what makes the students shiver; it is the historical texts that Bob puts in their hands and the subsequent ideas that germinate in their heads that scare them so. As Stanford history education professor Sam Wineburg once said, “ A good history teacher takes away your innocence about information.” It’s this lost innocence–or as I like to call it, learning to think critically–that makes Bob’s students so gloriously anxious . So too is this the reason my colleague has been named one of thirty state finalists for the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Classroom pedagogy aside, the quality I most admire about Bob is his dedication to scholarship. Too often people patronize teachers as academic lightweights, patting us on our heads for our big hearts and overlooking our intellectual endeavors. But Bob (like all of us) loves learning–and he’s really good at it. Take, for example, his dissertation on inequitable school funding, which received the 2013 Education Law Association’s Joseph C. Beckham’s Dissertation of the Year Award. Or the fact that in 2017, he was named a Fulbright Scholar and Honorary Research Fellow at University College London’s Institute of Education, working with the Justice to History Program on strategies concerning diversity in secondary classrooms. He regularly seeks out professional presentation and publication opportunities , and he is a Muhammad Ali Center Educational Partner, collaborating with their education outreach team on both curriculum and professional development.
More important than all these accolades, however, is that Bob’s passion for learning is genuine. I witness it in the U-High Social Studies office every day. It is not uncommon for a discussion his Political Philosophy students have had about Cicero or Nietzsche or Orestes Brownson to work its way into our office “shop talk.” Nor is it uncommon for him to burst in after class, elated about his Multimedia students’ engagement with his lesson on The Clash or The Tao of Star Wars, or, his personal idol, Muhammad Ali. Bob radiates intellectual curiosity.
And remember those AP U.S. History students? The ones who cower in his presence? They cower because they adore him. Believe me, I know; I get his students the following year in A.P. U.S. Government, and Dr. Fitz is a source of constant–and doting conversation. (He is also a tough act to follow.) Perhaps that’s because Bob is not just the AP U.S. History teacher. He is also the assistant activities director for Student Life, the Student Senate faculty sponsor, the decorated former varsity basketball coach, the guitar-playing faculty band leader and Class Night sponsor, and, for a few of our students, a surrogate father. I’m not surprised he is a Golden Apple finalist. I’m just surprised he wasn’t named one years ago.