Interesting People: What 2016 Taught One History Teacher

By Karla Davis

Mr. Robert Cannobio came to MCSM in September of 2016, as a new 11th grade History teacher.  He went to Hofstra University in Long Island, with initial pans of being involved in economics, but after careful consideration while in his senior year of college, he decided to get involved in the field of teaching.

Photo by Shah Miraz @shah_money12

Q: Tell us a little bit about how you came to teach at MCSM.

A: Last year i worked at a school in Long Island. It was sort of a temporary thing, so i was looking for a job and I saw MCSM. Visiting the school and talking to the assistant principal gave me a good glimpse of what the school was going to be like, and it seemed like a good fit. Where I would be able to work with a diverse student population.

Q: What was your other school like? (in terms of diversity)

A: The school where I taught in Long Island,was not very diverse, and part of the reason that i got into teaching was to work with students that come from different backgrounds from myself.
Q: When did you first know that you might like to be a teacher, and what were your initial steps to reach that goal?

A: I initially went to school for economics. I had no desire to teach initially and I didn’t really know what i wanted to do. And then as i got closer to graduating i started to think back on influential people in my life and I realized that most of them were teachers. And i knew that if anything, I wanted to work in any field that helped people work with people; so I thought that education was the best route to take.

Q: What is your philosophy of teaching?

A: I don’t know if i have a set philosophy but i have things that i care about. Most people think that history is set in the past and the past has already happened…but instead what i think is that a strong way to get students interested is to connect what has happened in the past to what is happening now. That way we can see not only why it is important to study history, but also why it becomes more interesting if you see that history repeats itself. It makes studying history a little easier if you know that it can help us understand what is going on right now.

Q: Do you weave current events into your lesson plan? If yes, how so?

A: I definitely look for ways to find stories that students will be interested in.When I talk about a current event, I try to relate that to something in history.

(Mr. Cannobio, later went on to say that there are instances when he finds that there is a current event that not most of his students are familiar with; and so he finds himself “having to explain not only that part of history, but the current event also”. Thus, he tries to pick current events that are relatable to his students.)

Q: When you see that students do not understand or connect with a topic, how do you change your lesson plans?

A: In the beginning of the year it is all about trying out new things and seen what works and seen what doesn’t work. And there are times when I teach for period 1 one way, and i see that that doesn’t work, so i’ll change it for the next period, and see what works.

Q: What made you chose a class more geared to the past?

A: I always loved U.S. history. I think it is easier to teach a class that is rooted in the present than teaching a traditional government class. When you teach U.S. history it becomes a bit of a challenge to relate what has happened in the past to what is happening now. And I always find that to be the most interesting when we find different patterns come up …

Q: Are there any things that your students talk about that surprise you?

A: I’m surprised by how much students were interested in the elections. For instance, I asked students if they watched Obama’s farewell address. [Although] I hadn’t mentioned it at all in class, there was a decent number of students in each one of my classes that did watch it on their own. And i was kind of surprised by that. When there are so many other options that they could be watching, they decided to watch something political.

Q: In terms of the last presidential election, do you think that you effectively informed your students about what was occurring at the moment?

A: I think so, because sometimes students in class will make the connection on their own between what we are discussing [in class] and what is going on today.
Q: Can you recall how you addressed the issue at hand? (Which was how America runs its Presidential elections.)

A: So, in class, leading up to the election, we would occasionally take a break from whatever we were doing and discuss various parts of the election process. It worked out well that around the time of the election we were talking about the constitution and the early stages of our country. So it fit into our lesson plan in some cases, [but] then there were some cases when it was best to just kind of take a break from what we were doing and just flat out discuss current elections. During the debates students were able to share their opinions about what they saw in each debate, what they liked what they didn’t like.

Q: Did you take a direct approach to it? Did you talk about the specific controversies surrounding this election, or did you compare it to elections of the past?

A: I think it depends on how big the controversy is or was. If it is a big issue… students are going to want to know the answers.
They look to social studies for that, as the best class in which to talk about politics. But then there are other issues concerning minor stuff which will fit better into the lesson plan the further away we get from the election itself.

. . . So if something comes up early in Trump’s presidency that relates to something we are talking about in class, it will probably fit in there. Ideally we won’t have too many instances where we have to stop what we are doing and talk about what is going on politically right at that moment… unless, there is something crazy that we need to discuss.

Q: So, you used a mainstream approach, rather than comparing the past to the present …

A: During the elections i think that it was a little bit of both. We discussed it as we were talking about the U.S. Constitution, and the early stages of this country. And then, some days we kind of just stopped what we were doing and talked about the debates. So I used some aspects of both [a mainstream approach, and connecting the past to the present]. I think that the situation kind of dictates what works best. I don’t want to restrict myself to only one [approach].  I think that comparing the past to the present is what we are going to use moving forward. Unless there is some big event that needs to be discussed.

Q: Do you find it helpful for students to be talking about the controversies?  

A:  It is helpful that the controversies are intriguing students and making them want to look deeper into the news. [But] it is kind of dangerous to always expect a controversy, and for that be the only time you get interested.  What if a certain piece of news is not as controversial but is still exceedingly important?
Q: Lastly, what did 2016 teach you?

A:  2016 taught me to not to be surprised.   In regards to the election– throughout the year I continually said that Trump did not have a chance. Regardless of political beliefs, no one expected him to win the Republican nomination let alone the presidency.  Towards the end of the campaign, it seemed like there was a new scandal every day that claimed to be the most shocking thing yet. But after awhile, the ability to be shocked goes away and we grow to expect craziness–if that’s possible.

In regards to MCSM, I’m frequently surprised here as well, although not on the same level as with the election. There are times when I have high expectations for my day and things don’t go as expected.  Then there are just as many days where I don’t have a good feeling about how the day will go and I am pleasantly surprised. I think this a good thing though. Even the “bad” surprises.  Because the unpredictability of teaching high school is exciting. Rarely are two days the same, and that is rare once you start your career.