New Teachers Offer Perspectives on 2022-2023 School Year

The Upper School has welcomed 13 new teachers across all departments this year.

Jake Dingman, one of the Upper School’s new history teachers, was first introduced to the Sidwell community when he came for a teaching demo.

“I was really impressed with the curiosity and engagement of Sidwell students,” Dingman said. “Every teacher hopes to work with students like that,” he added.

While visiting, Dingman also noticed Sidwell’s campus and immediately fell in love with it.

“When I think about Sidwell, the first thing I picture is the campus and how peaceful it feels,” Dingman commented. The friendly dynamic among students and faculty “[made] the whole place feel very welcoming to a newcomer,” he continued.

Although Dingman is passionate about teaching history, he has substantial experience in other subjects as well. In college, he majored in photography. Later, his first job as an educator was teaching English at a school in China. Living in China sparked Dingman’s deep fascination with Asian history, which led him to his job teaching Asian history at Sidwell.

Elise Robison is also a new history teacher. She, too, has taught a variety of classes during her career. With experience in English development, technology, government and economics, Robison has come to Sidwell determined to help her students learn through vulnerability and openness.

Reflecting on her own time in high school, Robison recalled her sophomore year, when she realized she needed to try something new. In an attempt to make new friends and become more adventurous, Robison joined the water polo team, even though she knew nothing about the sport. It was difficult for her at first, but she grew to love it, and her decision changed the course of her high school experience. She hopes to bring out the same adventurous and curious nature in her students at Sidwell.

Robison also advocates for building a compassionate and empathetic community.

“I believe if we can encourage lifelong learners, we will build a more informed and aware community,” Robison said.

As a teacher, Robison also wants to foster a love for history in her students, like the one she had growing up. Robison has been passionate about the subject since childhood, sharing that she has known since eighth grade that she wanted to be a history teacher.

Amy Tatarsky, a new chemistry teacher, embraces both the logical and creative aspects of the field. With three decades of college teaching under her belt, Tatarsky is eager to show her students the way that chemistry allows us to understand so much of what we see in everyday life.

Helen Snodgrass, joining the Upper School as a biology teacher, described Sidwell as a place with “strong shared values.” These values, as well as a sense of community, attracted Snodgrass to Sidwell.

Emma Unterkoefler, a new English Teacher, had similar appreciation for Sidwell’s Quaker identity.

“I think that these values — especially reflection, service, equity, justice and community — instill a sense of respect for each individual,” Unterkoefler said.

New faculty members also shared some of their goals for this year and explained their teaching philosophies.

“I hope all of my students feel respected and cared about as individuals in my class,” Snodgrass said.

As someone who held a deep love for science throughout her schooling, Snodgrass reminisced on learning biology in high school. While she was taught facts and information, underlying concepts and the wide variety of practices actually used by scientists were left out of the curriculum. Snodgrass is working to change that. She wants her high school students to understand how they can impact the world around them as well as the very important role scientists play in our understanding of the world.

I hope all of my students feel respected and cared about as individuals.

— Helen Snodgrass

Dingman also hopes to search for a deeper meaning in the concepts he teaches.

“[History] is so much more than just memorizing names and dates,” he explained. “To me, history is about the ongoing saga of human beings: how they struggle against each other and against nature, how they come together to try to improve their lives and even the daily and hourly struggles of people who don’t make it into the history books.”

Unterkoefler explained how her own high school experience has shaped the way she teaches. Attending a large public high school growing up, she noticed that the teaching was not individualized and she often had to learn concepts herself. This style of education taught her perseverance and also to ask for help when she needed it.

“These experiences influence the way in which I give students time to work individually as well as ample time to work collaboratively and directly ask me questions,” Unterkoefler said.

The new faculty members overwhelmingly expressed their excitement for the school year. They have been reflecting on their goals as educators and are coming to Sidwell ready to make a difference.

“I had a lot of great teachers,” Dingman said. “[T]he most memorable ones are those who were enthusiastic about both the subject and what the subject meant to their students. Hopefully, I can instill some of that excitement in my students as well.”