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Know Your Pelicans

Meet Becca Zimmerman (she/her)

Upper School History Teacher

Know Your Pelicans

What are your impressions of Packer so far? Our students? Your colleagues?

Packer is a warm and lively place filled with super interesting people and engaged students. I notice how everyone, faculty, staff, and students enters through the same door every morning and greets each other by name. I guess maybe it's the name tags! But genuinely, Packer people seem to bring their full selves to school—this is a place that so many different kinds of people feel supported in being creative and taking risks. I also so appreciate Packer's love for its own particular history and power in place. In such a unique (and incredibly confusing) building, I find myself getting lost but also learning so much from the physical space. Walking to work and taking my classes for a quick walk around Brooklyn Heights doesn't hurt either!

What do you teach? What is one of your favorite parts of the curriculum?

I feel so lucky to teach a diversity of courses here at Packer. I'm enjoying the wide range of questions and topics that I get to dive into through 9th grade world history, AT Government and Politics, and AT Archives. In one school day at Packer, I find myself discussing ancient maps, Roe vs. Wade and the history of American education. I love them all! In particular, I'm really excited to be doing a lot of New York City-specific curricula, as I'm planning a local politics unit for Gov and spending substantial time at the Center for Brooklyn History with Archives. In both of these courses, I feel lucky to learn with my students about the complicated past and present of our city. There's just so much at our fingertips, from going to meet with our state assembly person, to a lesson at the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, to uncovering more about Packer's history from the archival collection—I feel fortunate to be a teacher of New York.

Why do you teach? What do you like about being a teacher?

Teaching is the best profession for someone who is both super curious and super social. I love that I'm not only constantly learning about people of the past, but also constantly meeting new people in the present. Furthermore, school is genuinely a place where I feel at home and where something new, exciting, and unexpected happens every day. As a history teacher, each week, month, or year, I get to become obsessed with a new idea or place or time period and then discover it with a group of like-minded and enthusiastic people. It's truly a privilege. I also would be remiss not to mention that I am the fourth generation in my family to teach in New York City—it's the family business!

What's one thing most people at Packer would not know about you?

I used to live in Santiago, Chile!

Besides your subject, what's something you hope to teach your students?

I want my students to know how to talk to one another, look each other in the eye, and find common meaning and purpose with one another. School is a place where relationships thrive, and I want my students to learn how to build connection over ideas. I always remind my students that your best friends are the people with whom you can talk about the world and ideas – and that it's a privilege to be in a classroom dedicated to doing just that! Simply, I want my students to build intellectual community with one another. I also want my students to become genuinely interested in other parts of the country and the world. While I do not deny to my students that New York City seems a whole lot like the center of the universe, there are other places out there. I think of history as an expeditionary practice, one in which you get to go places and meet people. I hope this extends to their lives outside the classroom and in the present. Hopefully, they can take the skills and dispositions they learn form history to learn about other people and places when they encounter something strange or new or intriguing.

What are the strengths of your department?

I feel so fortunate to be a part of a department that has such a diverse range of interests, perspectives, and beliefs. I'm struck by how often I find my colleagues deeply engaged with one another about history, politics, and effective teaching practices. It's wonderful to be in a place where people value content knowledge but also the art of how to engage students on questions that matter.

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