PV History Teacher Pamela Schwartz: ‘I have such a true passion for history’

Gabrielle Rothenberg, Staff Editor

Pamela Schwartz, who will be teaching AP Art History for the first time next school year, has been a history teacher at Pascack Valley High School for six years. She loves sparking a love for history in her students.

“I think getting kids to love [history]… is probably my favorite part of the job,” Schwartz said.

Road to History

Before teaching World History at PV, Schwartz taught the class at Pascack Hills High School for six years.

“I have such a true passion for history,” Schwartz said. “I read about it, I watch things about it. I just love what I teach, and so I love what I do.”

Schwartz attended Binghamton University, where she was originally deciding between a degree in law or nursing. Her connection with history led her down the law path.

“My freshman year, I made the decision [to major in history],” Schwartz said. “From there, I kept trying to figure out how [I could] bring my two, sort of fundamental lights together [history and love of children] and I realized that teaching would be a perfect fit.”

However, Binghamton University didn’t have an undergraduate teaching program.

“So, I decided to go directly for my masters, and I did a one-year accelerated program at Teachers College, which is part of Columbia [University],” Schwartz said. “So, in that one year, I got my masters and certification in… sixth [grade] through 12th [grade].”

After interviews at multiple schools, Schwartz did her student teaching at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City. During that time, she also observed a class at Valley taught by history teacher Kenneth Sarajian and special education teacher Christopher Guinta.

“I almost took a [different] job; I had gotten an offer from Ardsley in Westchester,” Schwartz said. “But Mr. Orlak, my supervisor, called me first and offered me the job [at Hills].”

Schwartz said she wanted to teach high school students because she wanted to focus on history; if she had taught in an elementary school, she would need to teach many different subjects. During her time at Valley and Hills, she has taught CP, Honors, and AP World History.

Return to Valley

Schwartz is a Valley alumna from the class of 2004 and enjoys teaching at her alma mater, despite initial hesitancy.

“[Teaching at Valley is] actually not as strange as I thought it would be,” Schwartz said. “I also did start at Hills, which is not where I went to school. So I felt that there was a separation there. And then when I came [to PV], it kind of felt like just coming back to school…I had a really positive experience at Valley with my history teachers and so I was kind of excited to try and bring that here.”

Schwartz believes that the school’s personality has remained the same.

“The hallways are always loud and fun,” Schwartz said. “And kids seem to be a part of the school and really [feel]…that connection to Valley via sports and activities.”

According to Schwartz, the biggest difference from her time as a student at Valley is the increased use of technology.

“When I was in high school, we didn’t have laptops,” Schwartz said. “You only got a phone when you started driving. So I feel like the one thing that has changed is that tech component and that really has changed the dynamics of classes.”

Schwartz said that Valley has had an impact on her sense of community.

“I feel it as a teacher, and I felt it as a student: that this [school] was sort of like a second home for a lot of people,” Schwartz said. “…They have this connection to the school even after they leave.”

Joe Orlak, Pascack Valley Regional District Supervisor of Social Studies, Internships, & Professional Studies, decided to switch Schwartz from Hills to Valley.

“We had probably the best teacher of Pascack Valley’s history retire, [Karen] Kosch, and when she left I needed someone to teach World History,” Orlak said. “I needed someone to be a gateway teacher, determining students going into the honors level or AP level from freshman year to sophomore [year]. And I saw all the successes that Mrs. Schwartz had at Pascack Hills and thought this would be a great opportunity for her to bring that energy and positivity to Pascack Valley.”

Orlak believes that Schwartz is a very strong teacher and that it is easy to be her supervisor.

“I know [Schwartz] gets here very early in the morning…she bops into the room…and just brings excitement,” Orlak said. “She is dancing all the time, and [she is] excited and… spreads that joy.”

Orlak says that if he is having a bad day, he’ll just spend time with Schwartz because of her positive attitude.

In the Classroom

Schwartz loves being able to make learning a fun experience for her students. She also enjoys making connections with her students through learning.

“I always like when kids come back and they’re like…‘Did you teach the King Henry song yet?’” Schwartz said.

Schwartz says she tries to keep up with whatever her students are interested in.

“I try to make connections between today and what [the students] do,” Schwartz said.

If you walk into Schwartz’s room, you will see numerous history-themed posters and past students’ projects.

“That one wall that I have that has all the history posters, kids that sit over there are always reading it, always. It never changes,” Schwartz said. “I love that because it’s kind of a way to have information up around that kids might not know and it’s an easy way for them to learn… I like [the art] that kids made for my projects because it’s something that they should be proud of.”

Schwartz thinks that she has pulled her teaching style from many of her past teachers, one being former PV history teacher Karen Kosch.

“[Kosch] was probably the number one history teacher in this…school for a very long time,” Schwartz said. “She was always super fun and engaging and funny and caring, very bright, [and] pushed us academically. So she’s all around someone I look up to and try to be like.”

Schwartz was also inspired by fellow PV history teacher Jeff Jasper and past PV history teachers Mark Convoy and Dave Asciutto, all of whom taught Schwartz during her high school career.

Orlak praises Schwartz for her high energy.

“Beyond anything else, [Schwartz’s] energy is infectious,” Orlak said. “When she comes into a classroom, students may not be motivated [on] a particular day. By the end of the period, they’re ready to conquer the world. So, she is a very positive and energetic teacher. It really sets her apart from others, who are also great. She just takes it to a different level.”

Orlak describes Schwartz as creative and proactive with students.

“[Schwartz] doesn’t let students fall behind…but she is a rigorous teacher,” Orlak said. “…If you’ve had her, you know those expectations that have to be met. But she’s also a very kind person and a very approachable person, and her rigidness when it comes to teaching is offset by her positivity and kindness. So, I mean, if you can encapsulate what it is to be a good teacher, you could see Schwartz.”

Schwartz’s love for history isn’t specific to any particular time period or era. When she was a child, she loved learning about World War II; however, Imperialism and World War I are probably her favorites to teach.

“I remember learning about the Holocaust from a young age and being interested in that topic,” Schwartz said.

She says that the good versus evil aspect of World War II is a big topic for both kids and herself as a teacher.

“World War I is kind of fascinating for a lot of kids; it’s eye-opening,” Schwartz said. “They don’t really understand the consequences of that war and what it meant for modern warfare at the time and new weaponry.”

Schwartz believes that every culture is interesting to learn about.

“If I could go and study somewhere, I think Japan might be one place that I would be fascinated with,” Schwartz said.

If she went to Japan, she would like to learn about feudalism, the samurai, the Shogun, and the Tokugawa.

Schwartz also likes to take courses about various parts of history.

“I like to keep learning so that I’m up to date on the best information and most accurate information or just even for myself,” Schwartz said. “When you’ve been teaching the same thing for over a decade, it can get a little dry. So it’s nice to be able to learn about different outlets of information or different topics.”

One of Schwartz’s favorite memories from teaching happened outside of the classroom: when she took her students, and any of their parents that wanted to join, to see the movie “Lone Survivor” for extra credit.

“We got ice cream after [the movie], and we had a really awesome discussion on the film, and I thought that was a really special thing to be able to do,” Schwartz said.

AP Art History

Next year, Schwartz will teach AP Art History, a course that used to be taught at PV but hasn’t been for the past few years.

Schwartz is very excited to teach the class because she hasn’t taught upperclassmen in six years.

“…I’m really excited to teach…a different age group and to also have [the same] students again,” Schwartz said. “…I get to start [their high school career] with kids and then end [it] with them. So, that’s really special to me. And I’m looking forward to a new challenge and something new to teach.”

Another reason Schwartz is looking forward to teaching AP Art History is that she wants to know more about ancient art, as her freshman classes only cover Renaissance Art.

“I would really like to know more about ancient art. I think that’s what I’m most interested to learn and focus on,” Schwartz said. “Because [her World History Classes] don’t. The last time I think I learned about ancient art would be in college.”

Schwartz was chosen to teach this class due to her experience and creativity.

“So, if you’ve had Mrs. Schwartz in the past, you know she spends a lot of time talking about art and culture as part of the curriculum for World History,” Orlak said. “AP Art History is actually offered through the Art Department, which is run by Mrs. Mattessich. But seeing all of those creative ideas and the experience that [Schwartz] had teaching World History at the AP level [at Hills], Mrs. Schwartz fits that role.”

Looking Back and Advice

Schwartz thinks that it is important to come to work wanting to work or having something in your day that you feel good about.

A piece of advice she would tell her younger self is to relax and know that she will get through all of the material.

“…I think [my classes] had a lot more work to them when I first started teaching, and I wasn’t as sympathetic to kids being busy and having other activities,” Schwartz said. “But as a mom now and now that I’ve been teaching for—once again—over a decade, I am much more understanding of kids sometimes needing an extra day.”

She thinks that good advice for new teachers is that their first year will be the hardest but it’s important to keep going even if you don’t know everything.

“Teaching is something that you can do for a very long time, and, in a way, you can have a different job within that career. With teaching, eventually, you can become an administrator, you can become a supervisor, or you could teach different classes,” Schwartz said. “And so, I would say if you get through that first year, you’re good, and just keep learning, and keep at it.”