Smithsburg's Crawford encourages creativity

March 07, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: This is the sixth in a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County high schools. Next month: South Hagerstown High School.

SMITHSBURG - Smithsburg High School history teacher Dottie Crawford would rather talk about her students and their accomplishments than herself.

She shows off recent projects her students finished, such as sourdough biscuits and a model sod house, both representing cowboy life on the Great Plains in the 1860s.

"It helps to put them into that setting," she said.

The projects are an example of the creativity Crawford encourages in her classroom to make history more interesting than words on pages.

Crawford was nominated by her colleagues last school year to be recognized in a series about teachers in The Herald-Mail newspapers, but she refused, Principal Valerie Novak said.


When she was chosen again this school year, Crawford relented.

"There's so many good teachers out there. It's just hard to single someone out," said Crawford, 63, of Hagerstown.

Novak said Crawford "is one of the freshest, most alive, most energized teachers on the Smithsburg staff."

"I like what I'm doing. It's different," Crawford said.

Not all of the difference is positive.

Teachers have much bigger problems to deal with than when she started teaching 41 years ago, Crawford said.

"The morale of teachers today is not as good as it once was, I think because of the pressures of testing, the challenges, the different problems of students," she said.

With teachers having to prepare students for high school assessment tests, Crawford has become concerned the creativity could get pushed out, she said.

It's a fine line, she said.

Crawford started teaching physical education and health at Boonsboro High School before teaching social studies at North Hagerstown High School and then at Smithsburg High starting in the late 1980s.

Crawford said she always was involved in sports and became interested in history thanks to a professor at Hagerstown Community College.

Louis Tuckerman made history come alive for Crawford, so she tries to do the same for her students with projects such as having them interview people.

"(A student) may have trouble reading a textbook, but if they can talk to someone who lived during the Depression, it suddenly becomes more meaningful," Crawford said.

"History is more than a textbook. That's what I want them to see," Crawford said.

'She made it fun'

Borrowing an idea from another teacher, she has her students design a cereal box about their favorite person in U.S. history.

Last year, in Crawford's government class, students had to do a project about a constitutional amendment, said sophomore Saffiya Latif, 16, of Hagerstown.

"People think government is boring. She made it fun," said Latif, who used a slide show to teach her classmates about the death penalty in regard to the Eighth Amendment.

Crawford also helped Latif prepare recently for the American Legion's oratorical contest.

In addition to teaching U.S. Studies (1865-present) and Advanced Placement U.S. History at Smithsburg High this school year, Crawford also teaches world history twice a week at Evening High School, is on Smithsburg High's School Improvement Team and is an adviser for the Student Government Association.

But, back to her students, as Crawford prefers.

She recently pulled out a poster created by one of her North High students who hated history. When she asked what the student liked to do, drawing was his answer, she recalled.

The poster, titled "Stars of the '20s," depicts drawings of Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Jean Harlow and others.

Crawford said she tells her students, "'You all have talent. Use it.' And you feel so good when you see someone who maybe can't excel in one area and they excel in something else."

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