If history teacher Kevin Dua could go back to any point in time, he would go to the room where our country’s forefathers were finalizing the Declaration of Independence.
“I would challenge everything. I would say, ‘Do not leave this room until you change it from “all men are created equal” to “all humans are created equal.” Abolish slavery with the stroke of a feather and ink.’ That moment in time laid the foundation of our country,” Dua says.
That connection between the origins of the United States and current events is a recurring theme in Dua’s classes, where he emphasizes the relationship as a way to help students feel invested in the material.
Dua, who began at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in September after five years at Somerville High School, was named the Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year this spring. He was told on Tuesday that he did not win the National History Teacher of the Year award, which is presented by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, but he was one of 10 state winners named as finalists for the honor.
Dua’s lessons bear little resemblance to the dry, textbook-based history classes some may be familiar with. Once, a class project even grew out of a mistake he made.
“I was teaching my students about slave rebellions from Nat Turner. I created a packet with Nat Turner’s face on it, however I realized that the image was incorrect, that it was Frederick Douglass,” he says. “I told my students, and I was surprised I made that mistake, and then upon further researching I realized that other people had made that mistake as well. We pivoted from that to try to analyze exactly why these mistakes were made.”
The class went on to break with the curriculum and create a documentary called “Reclaiming Black Faces” that analyzed media bias, fake news, and racism.
Dua promotes critical thinking in his courses through lessons that take many forms, from simulations to debates to examining current events. He says he enjoys teaching high school because it’s the last stop on the way to the “real world.”
A Virginia native who now lives in Wakefield with his wife and dog, Dua says he’s been happy to see how passionate the students in both Somerville and Cambridge are.
At Somerville High School, Dua worked to build a sense of community in part by getting the district to set several Guinness World Records including most people waving international flags, most people wearing mismatched socks, and most people linking arms while standing.
Dua is branching out at Rindge and Latin and teaching psychology for the first time (in addition to a history class for juniors). While the subject name may be new, he’s weaving in his same passion for history and explaining current events by using psychology to explain things like the national anthem protests and Charlottesville.
Dua was the first African American to win the state-level award, he says.
“Being a Black male educator, which is the lowest demographic in regard to teaching in the country, it’s an awesome, surreal feeling,” he says. “The state award gives me a sense that I have a platform, and within this coming year I’ll use it for the best reasons, for my students.”