Academics / Community

Alexandra Siemon: Embodying passion and wisdom

Students of Alexandra Siemon, Social Studies teacher, often describe her as “knowledgeable,” “wise,” “honest and genuine,” and “caring and supportive.” She is also considered “very busy.” Besides being a teacher, Ms. Siemon is also the Global Scholarship Program Advisor and member of the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) advisory board.

Born into a family in which many members that she admires are teachers, Ms. Siemon says that these models inspired her to be a teacher. Moreover, she recalls that the teaching style of her United States history teacher in high school was tedious: students would sit in alphabetical order and read the textbook paragraph by paragraph. She says, “So this negative role model stimulated me to teach better as well.”

On the other hand, she met a number of teachers that she idolized—for instance, her music teacher, Gerry Galloway. “She was completely dedicated to producing beautiful choral music and tolerated no less that her choirs’ absolute best.” As a result, Ms. Siemon did not want to miss school and valued her education. “There was nothing better than her satisfaction that we had done a good job—and we were good!” Therefore, “I wanted to be as important to people as those kind of people were to me,” says Ms. Siemon. “I pretty much knew what I wanted to be by my high school sophomore year.”

Having finished high school, Ms. Siemon went to Washington University in St. Louis, where her father was a professor. After acquiring a bachelors degree in history with a minor in English, she went to Brown University and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching. The reason she applied to Brown was that she was looking for a change, and a school that was on the other side of the country would be “very different.”

Ms. Siemon then faced “a lot of challenges” during her early years of teaching at a public high school in Providence, Rhode Island. The condition was “tough:” “My freshman students were getting pregnant, and the seniors were having their second kid.” She confesses, “I cried in the shower, because that was the only place where people could not hear me cry.” But she realized that the students there needed her. She felt a sense of “obligation,” that she had to “modify the curriculum” to make ancient history more connected with the students’ daily life. For instance, she taught street laws, because many of her students were interrogated by the police. “It was hard,” Ms. Siemon says, but she was able to create value for her students.

Ms. Siemon came to Dana Hall in the spring of 1988. In a need of a job as her youngest daughters started going to kindergarten, she came in first as a permanent substitute, and then was hired as a full-time, regular teacher the following fall. She says that she has always enjoyed teaching at Dana. “I love the subject of history. I enjoy sharing my interests, I want to make a difference in the world, and what better opportunity than a classroom, and it turned out that I like teenagers.” She was named the James R. Adam Richins and Molly Rinehart Faculty Chair in the Humanities when she was Head of the Social Studies Department.

Now, besides teaching at Dana Hall, Ms. Siemon also serves on the MFA advisory board. Her motivation was to “give back to the society,” and the job itself is also really fun. The board holds three long meetings per year, and the members give feedback on, for example, defined galleries, so that the educational department could provide tourists with appropriate guidance to interpret the artwork. She says that the board members are great teachers from all over the places. “It’s so much fun,” she smiles.

Photo credit: Adam Richins

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