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Mr. Uplinger, Teacher Extraordinaire

Jacob Wasserman

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This school year has been quite a year for the We the People class (as previous articles would suggest). This year, we won the State Competition for the state of New Jersey, and went on to spend five days competing and sightseeing in Washington D.C. Getting to the national competition was not easy. It included a lot of work, not to mention the fact that we had to raise almost $50,000 for our team to get there. Fundraising was a stressful, and sometimes overwhelming process, for all of us. However, a few bright spots of our fundraising efforts were teacher jeopardy, a town hall at the Belmar Public Library, canning, and selling shirts. With the help of a few donations, we ended up meeting our goal.

In the state competition, we edged out East Brunswick, the three time national champion, and the team that wins the state competition almost every year. In the national competition, we placed 16th out of 56 teams. That means that we, the Marlboro High School We the People team, with no entry requirement, from a class that anyone can join, is the 16th best We the People team in the country. That is a significant achievement. We couldn’t have done it without the leadership of our teacher, Mr. Uplinger.

Due to the fact that our trip was a school-sanctioned trip, we needed chaperones. So, Mr. Hock and Ms. Shaw joined us. As a result of their experiences on the trip and their close relationships with Mr. Uplinger, they were the perfect people to ask for help on this article. I know how students feel about Mr. Uplinger as a teacher, but I was curious to see how other teachers felt about Mr. Uplinger as a teacher.

Mr. Hock has been teaching here for 15 years, and Ms. Shaw for 4 (3 of those years have been in the same room as Mr. Uplinger). Both teachers had great experiences  in D.C., but I wanted to know more details about it. Ms. Shaw was especially impressed by the community that had formed through the whole team, and how everyone supported each other through thick and thin. For example, after each team competed, everyone stayed silent until all of the judges left the room, and then everyone erupted in cheers, and congratulated the group that had just finished. Mr. Hock also noted the community aspect, but also the cause for that: Mr. Uplinger set a standard for all of his students. That standard is to treat everyone (and their opinions) with respect. Mr. Hock told me that his favorite part of the trip was getting to know the students and other chaperones better than he would have otherwise been able to. We, the students and the teachers had only known each other in a school setting, and this trip gave us the opportunity to get to know each other in a more candid setting. Most of the students on the trip have been in the classes of Mr. Hock and/or Ms. Shaw in the past, but we now know each other better through the experiences that we shared.

Another thing that I was interested in was what our chaperones learned on the trip. Ms. Shaw said that in terms of factual knowledge, she learned the most from the Holocaust Museum, but in terms of the intangible, she remarked that some motivated 17/18 year olds are just as mature as adults, and fully have the ability to be more knowledgeable that some would think. Mr. Hock, as a former Humanities teacher, said that he learned the most, factually, from the Library of Congress. For him, the most significant intangible thing that he learned was just how strong our community was, and that he enjoyed being a part of it. I was especially curious as to why two teachers would give up a weekend, and miss three day of school (and all of the extra work that it entails) for a trip for a class that they did not teach. Both teachers said that they did it to support us, but especially Mr. Uplinger. They wanted to validate all of the work that we had put in throughout the year up to that point.

I then went on to ask a few questions that were about Mr. Uplinger himself. I asked both teachers to describe him in two words. Mr. Hock answered with, “Legitimately genuine”. Ms. Shaw responded with, “Thoughtful & dedicated”. Both responses exhibit just how much Mr. Uplinger is appreciated and respected by both students and teachers. I also wanted to know how Mr. Uplinger had affected both teachers. Mr. Hock told me that he learned from Mr. Uplinger the importance of focusing on maintaining the passion for what they are teaching. As a student, I have observed over the course of my educational career to this point that one thing that all good teachers have in common is that they are genuinely passionate about what they are teaching, and that almost always transfers to their students. Ms. Shaw, as a younger teacher, has a different perspective. Even before she shared a room with him, she observed that Mr. Uplinger stayed late every single day. She said that he always does that because he is always trying to improve. Ms. Shaw said that the fact that such an experienced teacher is always learning from his experiences inspired her to try to do the same. Just as a person in general, Mr. Hock said that one significant thing that he learned from Mr. Uplinger is the importance of civil discourse in one’s everyday life. Mr. Hock told me that even when they don’t agree, he always trusts that Mr. Uplinger will listen to whatever he has to say, especially when they are talking about a political issue. Mr. Hock said that in such a divided country, that skill is invaluable. Ms. Shaw extended what she had learned as a teacher (to always look to improve) to her everyday life, no matter what the situation is.

Mr. Uplinger’s stated goal in teaching the We the People class is to make his students better citizens. Especially through this past presidential election, I can guarantee that every single student has become a better citizen because of our experiences with Mr. Uplinger. From passionate pre-election political discussions to watching the Inauguration of Donald Trump in class to stepping foot in the buildings where our country is run, we have gained immense knowledge, experience, and skills. That also extends to Mr. Hock and Ms. Shaw. Mr. Hock said that he is a better citizen because of Mr. Uplinger because he, “Lets him know that he’s not crazy” no matter what happens in the news. Ms. Shaw said that she is now a better citizen because now she does not believe that any opinion (that is well-reasoned and based in fact) is invalid, in politics or any other life scenario.

Taking Mr. Uplinger’s We the People class was probably the best academic decision of my life, and based on my current interests, Mr. Uplinger has changed my intellectual life for the better in so many ways, and I know for a fact that there are hundreds of students and teachers that would be willing to say the same.

 

 

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