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Phoenix man is Oregon's History Teacher of the Year

PHOENIX – Salem’s witch trial came under scrutiny Wednesday in an advanced placement history class for juniors where Oregon’s History Teacher of the Year asks the questions and gets students to come up with answers.

Clint Rodreick was selected as the 2014 award recipient by a group of Oregon education professionals in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History competition that leads selection of a national teacher of the year.

“One of the things I enjoy most is that which causes us to questions why things are the way they are and question our own beliefs, and looking back and seeing what others believe,” said Rodreick.

That questioning attitude is what the teacher hopes to instill in students.

“I really like his teaching methods. They are different than most people,” said student Eliza Conchas. “He gets us thinking.”

Research using original materials plays a key role in Rodreick’s approach. Narratives from two people involved in the witch trial were handed out to the students along with a grid where they were asked to describe the evidence and then answer why the people of Salem believed the accusations of witchcraft.

Students developed answers with partners in seven minutes. While they worked, Rodreick raised questions as he circled in the middle of the classroom where the desks are pushed back against the wall so he can easily reach each student. Among his questions:

“What is Cotton Mather’s evidence and argument?”

“Is there physical evidence?”

“What analogies doe he use?”

“How do you know this causes that?”

Along the way Rodreick throws in examples of good and bad reasoning and even displays a quote from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield: “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”

As the class nears its end, Rodreick asks students what are implications from what they have uncovered.

When students gain more skill he will present opposing viewpoints of historical occurrences, ask them to examine evidence, and ultimately pick a side and defend their choice.

A teacher and baseball coach inspired historical interest in Rodreick, now in his seventh year at Phoenix,

“My senior year in high school Mike Beagle from South Medford had me interview some World War II veterans,” said Rodreick. “It became real and personal for me.”

Liberal arts schooling at Pacific University, Forest Grove, helped him develop his classroom approach. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s of arts in teaching at the university.

Social Studies teacher John Cornet nominated Rodreick for the honor. Gilder Lehrman Institute’s criteria emphasize the use of original materials in historical research, said Cornet, and that’s what Rodreick has always done.

“He wants the students to look through multiple perspectives,” said Cornet. “He uses documents that illustrate various perspectives.”

Rodreick has high expectations and is persistent, a lifelong learner, curious and hungry for feedback, said Principal Janie Hale.

“The kids are engaged and thinking critically,” said Hale. “He has a vision of what great schools can do for kids.”

Rodreick will receive a certificate and a check for $1,000 from Lia Harlan of the state Education Department’s Office of Learning during a spirit assembly Friday. He also gets an archive of materials from the institute.

“They will be some pretty serious and wonderful resources that allow kids to get hands on materials that we can’t otherwise afford,” Rodreick said.

Clint Rodreick's Phoenix High School AP history class is studying the Salem witch trials with the aid of a projected computer screen. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell