A Thank-You to Teachers who Challenge their Students

Mr. Gallo’s AP European History class was legendary. I heard about it even before my freshman year, from older friends who were preparing to take it in the fall. They told me about the infamous summer assignment and the sheer volume of work which it entailed – extensive textbook reading and notes, plus two full books of supplementary reading.┬áTalk about intimidating!

When I started high school, I discovered that you didn’t have to be an AP student to encounter Mr. Gallo – he also taught the freshman-level Honors World History class. On the first day, he affirmed that he wanted a lot from us. This was an Honors class, after all. There would be a lot of homework, and we would have to really study to do well on the tests. And he fully expected that we would put in the necessary effort.

This clear setting of expectations was foreign to me; none of my teachers in middle school had done anything like it. To be sure, there were occasional comments in Honors classes about how we should work harder than the on-track kids, but this was different – it was a “you will,” not a “you should,” and I could tell that he meant it. And I found, oddly, that I didn’t want to let him down. I wanted to live up to his expectations, even exceed them, and prove myself to this tough teacher.

I had coasted all through middle school. Most of my classes were not particularly difficult, and I had taken them much less seriously than I should have. I didn’t always do my work, and when I did, I didn’t always bother to do it well. As a result, my middle school transcript had a lot of Bs, with the occasional A or C here and there. But something changed on that first day of high school. When I got home that afternoon, I immediately took out my Honors World History textbook and did the reading. Suddenly, homework had ceased to be optional.

I made an A in Honors World History – and indeed, in all of my classes that year. Actually doing all of the work does wonders for one’s grades. And when course selection time rolled around, I signed up for AP Euro without hesitation. The summer assignment seemed no less scary than it ever had, but I was determined to conquer it. I wanted to prove to Mr. Gallo – and to myself – that I could.

In AP Euro, Mr. Gallo challenged us even more than he had in Honors World History. He challenged us to think harder, to go beyond the reading and see history as one big web made up of interwoven causes and effects. We had to really think about the big picture, and articulate the connections within it, in order to do well on the tests. And he also challenged us to go above and beyond what was necessary for a good grade. It was absolutely expected that we would take and pass the AP European History exam, but he also encouraged us to take the exam in AP World History, a class which our school didn’t offer. If we studied for the European History exam and then did a little bit of extra prep work for World, he said, we could do well. (He was right.)

And of course, Mr. Gallo didn’t just state his expectations. He followed through by providing us with all the support we needed to perform at the level he believed we could. He gave us feedback throughout the year, recognizing our good work and encouraging us to do even better. And during the leadup to the AP exam, he proctored three full-length practice tests on evenings and weekends so that we’d be prepared to do as well as he knew we could. Most of the class got 4s and 5s, as his students do every year. He was proud of us, but not at all surprised.

Mr. Gallo was (and is!) an amazing teacher because he created an environment in which excellence was the norm. In trying to meet his expectations, we achieved more than we realized we could, and that made us want to do even better.┬áMr. Gallo had a real and lasting impact on me; my achievement in his classes made me care about school and about doing my best. Teachers like Mr. Gallo – teachers who really challenge their students – change lives, and they deserve our thanks.

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