If students are lucky, they’ll encounter a handful of classes and teachers that have a lasting impact on them. If teachers are lucky, they’ll discover the impact they and their class have had on a young person.
It appears that the students who have taken Fairmont’s IB History class are lucky … and so is their teacher, Tiffany Lobertini.
IB History is part of the International Baccalaureate program, an advanced study program at Fairmont and many other schools around the world. IB classes are more rigorous than the usual high school class, and they strive for a deeper level of understanding in each subject.
But IB History’s former students say that class is different and even life-changing.
Audrey Coleman, a 2012 Fairmont graduate who now studies Cold War History at Ohio State University, took IB History her junior and senior year. She says the Fairmont class is similar to her college-level classes.
“You really dive into the curriculum with a focus and purpose that you more frequently find within your major program at a university rather than in a high school classroom,” Coleman said. “That being said, the class has lessons that everyone needs to learn, and if I were an instructor or adviser, I would make a class like that mandatory for any of my students. Honestly, without this class, I would not be the person I am today.”
The IB History class focuses on teaching history topics about the Middle East and the Cold War. The students discuss topics such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the creation of Turkish Republic.
Lobertini, a Social Studies teacher, is a veteran in the IB Program; this is her seventh year teaching the IB History class. Lobertini agrees that the class is very similar to most college courses.
“Students have to be more responsible for their learning,” Lobertini said. “There is a lot less memorization and more in-depth understanding of each topic.”
Students who have taken the class say they see the many benefits that approach to learning provides, even after high school.
Katie Baxla, a 2011 Fairmont graduate who now works for an international crane company, said she feels one of the most important things she learned from the class is to to see world events from more than one standpoint.
“My favorite thing we learned about in the class was all about the Middle East,” Baxla said. “Americans have a tendency to dehumanize the Middle East and make a lot of generalizations about the things that go on in that part of the world. There is a lot more to the story than any one news center will give you.”
Coleman agrees. “This class kind of eliminated the idea of racial/ideological ‘tolerance’ and replaced it with genuine respect for cultures and ideologies I never before would have understood, let alone grown to admire,” she said. “The class made you think objectively; you had to take in all sides and truly understand them before speaking about them, and that taught me respect at a surreally subconscious level.”
Lobertini said she teaches the class with the hope that she is helping her students become more educated and have a better understanding of important topics.
“I would rather have five kids sign up for IB and walk out and be the most informed kids, knowledgeable and intelligent, than 50 kids who are ignorant and really don’t get anything out of it. To me, that’s where I’m leaving my mark,” Lobertini said.
“Every kid that I have taught and left an impact on to help them learn and understand people, cultures, history, relationships, diplomacy — that’s going to stick with them and that’s going to cause them to have conversations with their friends, and that’s going to cause those people to think,” she said.
Indeed, Baxla said her IB History experience forced her to step completely out of “the American mindset.”
“You had to look at all these scenarios from different perspectives. You were forced to make your own opinions about events and people based on world views, not necessarily what you were just taught your whole life,” Baxla said.
Coleman said she believes that IB classes prepare students for college and give them skills that will follow them through all classes, making them better students.
“My writing skills significantly improved through the assignments given in that class, and it helped that I had a genuine interest in the topics we were learning and discussing,” Coleman said. “That class in particular drove study habits into my mind that I didn’t fully appreciate until I was leagues ahead of my peers at Ohio State.”
Joe Barton, a 2012 Fairmont grad, also believes IB History is extremely beneficial, even after high school.
“It’s hard, but it is incredibly rewarding and will prepare you so well for higher education courses, not just in history but across subjects,” Barton said. “You don’t just learn history. IB History makes you dig very deep into a subject, much deeper than most other classes. You really do become an expert at the end of the course.”
IB History has had such an impact on its students that some of them decided to change their entire plans for college. Coleman dramatically changed her career goals after taking the class.
“Now, I really do have to completely give credit to this class as the reason I am a history major with an intent to focus on Cold War Studies through grad school,” Coleman said. “I think I was considering Psychology/Neurology before that class, though to be honest, as soon as I was about a semester involved in IB History, my focus had totally switched over. For the first time, I was learning the way I learn best and studying topics that I was developing a true passion for.”
While Joan Eardley, a 2009 Fairmont graduate who now majors in Cold War History, knew that she wanted to go into history before starting the class, it changed the direction of her studies.
“The class helped me develop an interest in Cold War history, specifically the Soviet Union,” Eardley said. “This is important because I was dead set on studying Tudor England, but Mrs. Lobertini and IB History were both big, positive influences on me.”
Former students cannot overemphasize the significance of the course on their lives.
“It really changes you as a person. This class was hands-down the most rewarding class I have taken in 16 years of schooling,” Baxla said. “Mrs. Lobertini really captures what IB was all about and really built better, more confident, more well-rounded students and eventually adults.”
Baxla also noted Lobertini’s dedication.
“She eats, breathes and sleeps for her students and treats them like her own kids. She’s there for you in and out of the classroom, and it really takes a unique teacher for that,” Baxla said.
However, Lobertini has decided to take a break from teaching the class in order to spend time with her family. She will no longer be teaching the IB History after this year’s juniors graduate in 2016, but she will continue to teach the Comparative World Religion class.
“The decision to take a break has been a tough one,” Lobertini said. “I have a 6-year-old son we adopted and he has severe ADHD. It is a lot more of a struggle in the evenings, trying to get him to do work and those kind of things, so I want to make sure that I have time to be there and be a mom for him. My two oldest girls are pretty much self-sufficient. But for my son, I just don’t want to miss out on anything. I want to make sure that I can help him. I don’t want to be a great teacher to my students, but my kids suffer at that expense.”
Lobertini says she’d love to return to teaching the class in the future.
“I want to come back to the class because I am a very strong supporter of the IB program,” Lobertini said. “That’s why I have gone through all the training that I have, and I will continue to be an IB examiner. That’s something that I can still do even though I am no longer teaching the class because I really feel that just the international perspective that the students get through the IB program is something that all of our students should be given.”
Lobertini says she’s grateful for all of the students who have taken her class.
“I want to thank them for taking the time to allow me to teach them, whether it has been a year or two in the class, and really learn about it and walk away with something from it. I get emotional because that’s just how much I love it.”