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Getting to Know Margaret

Profile on AFS history teacher Margaret Guerra
Getting to Know Margaret
Rainy Korein ’27

I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped into Margaret Guerra’s Honors History class for the first time this fall. Unlike in many classes, my experience in her class was just as lighthearted and humor-filled as it was informative and interesting. When I learned of her upcoming retirement, I decided to take this opportunity to learn more about her life before saying goodbye. 

Q: What was your experience in school as a student? 

A: I turned in everything late. It was a big problem for me. It was a huge stressor. I was a terrible procrastinator. Other than that, I went to a high school that was pretty small…smaller than this, probably…fifty kids in my class. So it’s one of those places where everybody had to do everything. So, I think that was really good for me. I was on the speech team. I worked on the magazine and the paper. I managed the girl’s basketball team, which…I can’t remember anything about how to keep stats, but I did that. It was fun.

Q: Did you like the way your classes were taught?

A: Sure. I didn’t know any better. There was a lot of lecture and stuff like that. You know, I passed a lot of notes. I was definitely attempting to multitask. In history class, we sang songs. A relevant song for each…when we were doing industrialization, we sang a song about the weavers. “If it weren’t for the weavers, what would we do?” See, I still remember, and that was like a million years ago. 

Q: What was your favorite subject in school?

A: I liked English and history. I kind of loved algebra. We would like race to solve our algebra problems. I loved reading books in English class. Although at first, I was like; “We’re ruining the books by discussing them like that.”

Q: What did you do for fun as a kid? What do you do for fun now?

A: Read. I played dolls for a really long time. I had a doll house. I had a brother who was ten years younger than I was, so we’d make up these whole scenarios with the dolls and these Evel Knievel stuntman. Also, I used to take him to the park and play different made-up fantasy games with him. I wasn’t a total loner kid, but I was a little bit of a loner kid. 

Q: What made you decide to become a teacher?

A: OK, so here’s the thing. It was kind of an accident. When I finished college, I didn’t want to be a teacher. I was like, “Oh my god. I don’t want to teach people who don’t want to be there, bla bla bla.” So I worked in childcare for a while, and when I came here I came to be the preschool director. Then, the week before school started one year, they said; “could you teach a history class?” and I was like “Wait what”. It was so fun, I loved it. I’d come over, have my own little class, and then come back. When you’re an administrator, you can’t do anything for more than like three minutes. And then someone comes over and is like “the toilet’s overflowing,” or whatever. But in a classroom, you can just…I would go home and pull up their homework and be like “What are these kids thinking?!”, cause the kids who never talk, you’d be like “Oh, what did they say?” After a couple years, I was like, “Can I please just teach full time?” and so that’s how it happened.

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what job would you want to have?

A: Librarian. Be around the books, helping people with research…no grading. I would never be as good of a librarian as Toni though. 

Q: What have you learned about teaching?

A: Everything! The first year I taught full-time, I was like “dang, I do not know any of this stuff.” The kids were reading the Bhagavad Gita, and I was reading at the same time as they were, and I was like “What the heck?” – I didn’t know anything about Hinduism. So, for me at the beginning, it was all about content. There was just all this history I had to teach myself. Now, I’m still trying to learn the content. Getting ready for the Ottoman simulation, I was like “Okay, I sort of remember this one thing I read, let me go find it…” I feel like with history, you could just be learning new stuff forever. Plus they’re finding new stuff. But it’s much more about how people think. Every year, I learn new things about how people think and how they learn, how they remember, and how you can get the people in the room to interact with each other so they open up their brains and remember stuff. 

Q: How do you get people to do that? In a lot of classes, people don’t do that – they just sit there.

A: They just wait for the teacher to pour knowledge into their head. And I’m like, that is so not happening. There’s a really great cognitive psychologist named Daniel Willingham. He wrote a book called Why Students Don’t Like School, which is about the cognitive psychology of learning, and he just wrote a book called Outsmart Your Brain. And my daughter took a class in college that somebody else wrote a book called Make It Stick. They’re all about how brains work, and how the developing brains of high school students work, but also how everybody’s brain works. How do you remember something? But also I have the advantage of being a history teacher, so all the questions that we’re trying to answer are questions that at some level interest every student: “How does power work?” “What makes people popular? Or rich?” Those essential questions. So, I feel like if I can make that analogy come across to people, then they’ll be like “Oh, hm. Maybe I should think about these Ottomans.”

Q: What has teaching taught you about students/high schoolers? Did that give you a different perspective on them?

A: It did. I was totally not the popular kid. My dad was the headmaster of my high school, so I was not only not popular, I was like…I mean, I had friends, but I thought high school kids were scary. There were all those cliquey things that I couldn’t figure out, and I never wore the right clothes. The first year I taught, the kids were challenging. They did not respect anything I said. But now I think high school kids are totally fascinating. Like, the stuff they say is never stuff I would think up. It’s the biggest thing I’m worried about about retirement: how am I gonna be connected to people, not in my own generation? Cause I learn so many things, and a way of looking at things that I wouldn’t come up with otherwise. And sort of a letting-things-slide kind of thing. One day, I said to one of my students, “Oh my god, you just look so upset. Is everything okay? Were you upset with me?” and she was like “Oh, I’m just a teenage girl. I was just being moody.” *laughs* I love high school students!

Q: What are you most looking forward to about retirement?

A: Spending more time outside with my dog! I have all these projects I wanna do. When I’m in school,it takes so much of my mental energy that it’s hard for me to learn new things. I am a bird-box monitor in the Wissahickon. I knit, and there’s a “Hats of the National Parks” book… I wanna make “Hats of the Wissahickon”. I wanna figure out all these different stitches, and make one of the covered bridge. I’m gonna join the Handweaver’s Guild. There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve taught myself that I want more experienced people to teach me so I can really learn. I want to turn my garden into a food forest, so I want to learn all about permaculture. I want to learn stuff! I don’t even know what else…the other things will come along! And, my parents are old, so I want to spend time with my parents.

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  • T

    TaylorMay 31, 2024 at 10:14 am

    As a former college Biology professor, now doctoral student, I have always credited Margaret for my presentation skills. I have given many PowerPoint presentations with the same template that I learned in Honors History 15 years ago that Margaret repeatedly emphasized in our class (just include key words, pictures, and summary bullet points). I have since taught many students to follow the same template when presenting to demonstrate confidence and understanding of the material, as well as to keep the audience engaged and not turned off by blocks of text. Unfortunately, they did not receive the same type of professionalism lessons from their high school teachers. Margaret inspired my love for history and learning outside of the classroom, which unknowingly pushed me into the education field. Very honored to have had her as a teacher!

  • S

    SolomonMay 31, 2024 at 10:13 am

    Margaret is an incredible and inspiring teacher. She fosters so much growth in her students and takes a whole new approach to tackling history. Anyone who has had her knows that she truly has a great sense of humor and knows how to have some fun in class. She is one of the most caring people out there and she approaches teaching and history with the care which it deserves. I will truly miss Margret and I hope she has an amazing retirement full of doing the things she enjoys.

  • J

    JacobMay 30, 2024 at 8:36 am

    Margaret’s class was always entertaining and you could always count on a different class everyday. Her class was similar to other history classes I’ve had before but with her own style that made the experience unique thanks to her.

  • D

    DillanMay 30, 2024 at 8:26 am

    Margaret was a wonderful teacher who completely changed the way I think about my favorite subject. She was also hilarious. Her presence at AFS will be missed!

  • P

    PaxMay 30, 2024 at 8:24 am

    Margaret, the first day I came into your class I knew it was going to be really fun. You are so upbeat and fun, and you make every class interesting. There are never just lectures, we always have a discussion, debate, or small project that keeps everyone interested in what we’re learning. Every day, I look forward to your unique check in questions, learning more about you and the people in my history class.
    Thank you for teaching me to love history!