Educator Spotlight: Mercedes Clemons
Junior high educator in Arizona gives her students their own voice in history lessons
This story is part of a monthly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
As a sixth-grade history teacher, Mercedes Clemons has a lot to unveil to her bright-eyed students.
Surely, there are stories, maps, photos and written decrees that could fill up a year’s worth of teaching, but Mercedes doesn’t concede by piling heavy textbooks onto each desk. Instead, she arrives with her own questions, too.
Mercedes is unafraid to invite opinion into her social studies class. She is brave to teach beyond the facts and to ask that each of her students consider not just what they need to know, but what they can do about it moving forward, and she’s building an immense amount of self-respect and responsibility along the way.
“While my students might not be able to remember that the Emancipation Proclamation was given in 1863, they can remember the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation one hundred years later,” Mercedes says. “They’re starting to realize things that happened 200 years ago are affecting injustices right now within our country.
“They’re beginning to understand systemic racism or why gender equality hasn’t happened yet – they’re really just thinking things out, and that’s been an amazing experience.”
Allow for Growth
Mercedes began teaching in Arizona four years ago, when she was inspired by other educators who chose to talk about history from a different perspective. She, too, wanted to engage students in a way that left them hungry – not just for more facts, but for civic change led by them and how they, too, can talk about history differently as they grow.
“I like to say in my class, ‘It’s okay to change your opinion when presented with new information,’ ” Mercedes says. “We must first respect each other’s opinions, but then we allow for growth, and we don’t hold each other back.
“If we’re in person, we do a lot of circles in which we really talk – just authentic conversation that teaches students to love learning so they can be lifetime learners.”
For context, students in her class choose Supreme Court cases to discuss on Flipgrid, research their own ancestral roots or hash out ballot measures before the lunch bell and once interviewed their principal on voter suppression.
Mercedes knows these are 12-year-olds who hear presidential election updates from 60-second videos on TikTok, so she chooses to empower them with all the information coming their way.
With delight, an open mind and warmth, she asks her students questions that help to strengthen their own historical resource skills so that their opinion might not be muffled but laced with conviction and action beyond the words.
She is eager for the future because of her students who are on their way.
“The Constitution is there, and it can be interpreted, but what’s important is to teach students what bias means and check how our own biases might have affected them,” Mercedes says.
“We’re all in this vulnerable state of recognizing that we have a lot of unlearning and relearning to do, but when you can truly love your students in all that – learn to empathize with them and see them beyond the four walls of your classroom – you begin to understand who they are and how they will take what they’re learning in class and apply it to their everyday lives.”