A self-proclaimed “big history dork”, history teacher Ms. Emily Giddings currently teaches ninth and tenth grade World History honors, and Discovering Psychology, a special course for seniors.
Giddings has been teaching at the high school since she started teaching out of college. She moved from Delaware to Massachusetts to attend Boston University for her bachelors degree in Education, then continued on with her masters in Museum Studies using the Harvard Extension program. After eleven years at the high school, she will be leaving to teach at a private boarding school.
Though when picking her college major she does not know if she could have named it, Giddings always felt happiest in school environments, resulting in her desire to be a teacher as she realized that was not the case for her peers.
“I always felt really affirmed and confident in the space of school…I felt valued there and I felt heard there. It was always a really happy place for me to be. I think I was aiming to continue in that happy place—just in an adult role,” said Giddings.
Giddings felt her high school was most fundamental to her experience and her values. Growing up in Delaware, she went to a very big, very racially and socioeconomically diverse high school with over 2000 students. She felt this experience gave her a particular understanding that is a little bit different from the standard K through 12 experience in Wellesley.
“I got a fantastic education, I had unbelievable teachers, and I interacted with people from all different backgrounds and had friendships with people who didn’t have the same upbringing as me, the same family structures as me, even the same opportunities as me, frankly. So I think that my literal education there was fantastic, and my, just being a human, coming up in that environment was really important,” said Giddings.
One curveball that shaped Giddings’ teaching career and pushed her through some adversity was COVID, as it did for many teachers. Giddings can pinpoint both a pro and a con within the effect of COVID on her life as a teacher and a traveler.
A con of COVID for Giddings was the lack of travel since both exciting, fun trips and trips to see family were a big part of her pre-COVID life. She is starting to get back into an “on the go” lifestyle now that things are easing up. Istanbul was one of her favorite spots to travel to because of the rich history and cultural diffusion as well as the welcoming people. Another stand out place for her is Kenya.
“More recently, I was back in Kenya for a second time with my husband who grew up there. There’s just no words to capture how beautiful and expansive it is and how much diversity is within the country. Like you go to the coast and you’re at this beautiful tropical beach and then you go inland and you’re in this amazing conservation with all these unbelievable animals. Or, you go to Nairobi, and it’s this bustling city with all kinds of awesome restaurants and places to visit and people to meet and interact with so I really, really love it there too. Everyone should go,” said Giddings.
Aside from the lack of travel, her experience in the school systems during COVID opened Giddings’ eyes to what she truly values about being a teacher, including her appreciation for smaller class sizes.
“During the COVID year, I felt like I was the best teacher I’ve ever been. When I reflect on why, I realize that because of the way our days were set up, I only had fifteen kids in front of me in smaller groups, I had more time, and there was less content coverage. All of those things really let me zero in on working closely with students,” said Giddings.
Upon having this realization thanks to the way the high school was set up during COVID, Giddings really only applied to small private schools when she decided to move schools.
“What I’m really excited about in that private school setting is to have a max of fifty students, an hour and a half classes, and more flexibility. There’s also dedicated office hours every single day built into their schedule, so I’m really excited to lean into a setting that I think is able to best facilitate my best work as a teacher,” said Giddings.
Although Wellesley is a very well-resourced town, Giddings has found it challenging to give this special attention to each and every student, simply because of how the school week is constructed.
“We want to see each student as much as possible, and we want to meet every student’s specific needs. But, even in a place like Wellesley, that’s really hard to do when you have eighty to a hundred students that you see for an hour, three to four days a week,” said Giddings.
One worry that Giddings has about leaving the high school is her moral transition from teaching public school to teaching private school.
“Part of the hard decision about leaving to go to a private school was that I do really fundamentally believe that public education is core to this country,” said Giddings. “But, given that Wellesley Public Schools is a very privileged public school with its resources, it doesn’t actually feel like such a huge leap, and I know that Wellesley will have the resources and funds to find someone to take my place.”
Giddings reflects on her ability to learn from her colleagues over her past eleven years at the high school, and is proud of herself for always seeking feedback and observing her coworkers so as to learn from them. She considers the history department her family and the depth of her relationships with her friends is one of the things she will miss the most.
“There’s so much talent in this building among the staff, and there’s a lot of skills to develop. If you’re not open to receiving feedback, that can be critical. But I always tried really hard to stay open to watching what other people were doing and learning from them, as well as inviting them in to give me feedback. I think it’s why I’ve gotten so much better at this job,” said Giddings.
Fellow history teacher Jaqueline Katz is a close friend and colleague of Giddings. Katz appreciates how Giddings has taught her more about standards-based grading and restorative justice, as well as just being someone she can bounce ideas off of.
“I grew up used to a very rigid grading system, with calculating one grade from averages. Ms. Giddings, however, helped me around that obstacle and helped me see the philosophical reasons why standards based grading makes sense. I think that is something that is really hard to help somebody understand, because it takes a lot of patience,” said Katz.
Another thing that Katz, as well as the history department as a whole, appreciates about Giddings, and therefore will miss with Giddings gone, is her social efforts for their community.
“She’s definitely one of the social directors of the department. She’s somebody that tries to remember birthdays, and tries to plan social events for us and I think that’s going to be really missed,” said Katz.
As Giddings comes to terms with leaving the high school, she considers one of her legacies to be the Evolutions program and feels proud watching the seeds she planted grow.
“I helped design the very first iterations of evolutions—I was the first history teacher involved, and the first year it ran was really magical. It was one of the hardest years I’ve ever had, in terms of building a program and working on a team that was still trying to figure out what our collaboration looks like. But at the end of the day, the work that some of those students in that first cohort did was really amazing,” said Giddings.
Nora Jarquin ’22 was a student of Giddings her sophomore year, and was inspired by Giddings emphasis on the importance of educating yourself and holding yourself to a higher standard.
“I love how direct and confident she is in her teaching. I can only imagine how difficult it can be to be a woman in academia or fields with many older men, or entitled high schoolers, but she always carries herself highly and makes me want to do the same,” said Jarquin. “Her values, and thus her class, made me want to be a better scholar and person. ”
Eleni Livingston ’22, another of Giddings former students, credits Giddings for developing her ability to think in a nuanced way.
“She taught me how to make connections across different historical periods and how to think critically about the current impacts of historical events. She pushed students to think deeper than the surface,” said Livingston.
Aside from inspiration in the classroom, Livingston values the time Giddings took to check in on her students’ well-being.
“Once I walked into the History Lab really stressed about Modern World History. I asked for help on an assignment, but Ms. Giddings could tell something was off and she asked me if I was okay. We got into a good conversation about the expectations I had for myself and for the class, and how I could help myself meet them. It was very encouraging and I felt so supported,” said Livingston.
Giddings considers this decision to leave the high school to be one of the most challenging decisions of her life, and thus feels mixed emotions towards her impending departure.
“It is the most bittersweet moment for me ever. I’m really excited to do something new, but I’m also terrified. I told all the girls in the history department, if you kick me off the group chat I’m gonna say no. And they were like oh of course not. I’m nervous to not be with the people here every day, but also excited to see what our friendships look like in a different context,” said Giddings.
The original Evolutions team in 2015 on the roof before our kicking off the program on the first day of school. (Mr. Brown, Mr. Henes, Prof. Lovett, and Mr. Corey)
Photo courtesy of Emily Giddings