Longtime Lakeridge teacher Karen Hoppes-Fischer retires
Before getting on the phone with The Review for this story, Karen Hoppes-Fischer, Lakeridge High's AP U.S. history teacher, was on back-to-back calls with students who were completing their research papers.
When schools closed due to COVID-19, Hoppes-Fischer gave her students the option to continue working on their papers through the summer. Many took her up on the offer, which is why this longtime teacher isn't retiring until August 31.
At the end of the summer, she'll say goodbye to Lakeridge after 32 years there.
"Lakeridge is a very special place," Hoppes-Fischer said. "I've taught in several school districts,"
Hoppes-Fischer has been a teacher for more than four decades. She said most schools talk about themselves as being families, but Lakeridge is the one that comes closest.
"It's just the right size," she said. "It's big enough to have some choices and differences, but small enough that you know everyone."
Of course, she'll miss more than just the school itself.
"I'll miss the students. But most of them know where I live, so I'll be seeing them," she said.
She said the exciting challenge of teaching itself will also be missed.
"It's more than just the kids," she said. "It's getting up in the morning and knowing I've got another challenge today — as in, 'How am I going to translate these stories I want to tell ... and translate it in such a way that kids will find a place for it in their lives?'"
Her course has evolved over the 30-plus years she's taught it. In fact, she recently parted with a notebook she had kept that contained all her lectures, year after year. In looking back at it, she could see the places where she'd rewritten paragraphs and sometimes whole lessons.
"That's why history is so fascinating to me. It doesn't stay still," Hoppes-Fischer said.
She said that although her training was in intellectual history, she became more of a social historian over time.
In the '90s she became concerned with making sure that she told the American history story through the lens of people of color and not just white men. She would dedicate portions of the class to teaching the Indigenous history and the African American history but soon gave up on that structure because she wanted to weave the stories of different groups together to tell one holistic story of American history.
She said this was difficult because many textbooks are not designed that way.
She tried, through her teaching, to put real people into a moment in time to illustrate how alive history is. She did so by using primary sources — letters, magazines, advertisements and music of whatever time period students were learning about at the time.
"Students are really impacted by that, because they tend to see history as dead white people," she said.
She didn't just give her students history lessons — she taught them how to be historians themselves. She said that being a historian is like being in a detective novel.
"We looked at redlining … we pulled out the maps of Portland and Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and San Francisco," she said. "It's really kind of shocking to the students when we do that."
She said that with the use of primary sources, she could showcase data and other evidence of a time period and let students think for themselves about it, rather than telling them what happened.
"History doesn't tell you truth, it tells you what people were thinking at a particular period of time," she said.
She said a lot of history is about tough conversations, and she's going to miss having those discussions this coming year.
"I really am going to miss teaching this fall, considering all that's happened this spring and summer," she said in reference to the local and national Black Lives Matter protests.
She said that although many non-Black people are shocked that racism is still a problem in the U.S., her students didn't have that same reaction.
"I'm proud to say that most of them tell me that they understood, that they're not surprised," Hoppes-Fischer said.
As for her retirement plans: They're still up in the air.
"It's still fluid right now. I didn't plan on this," she said, referring to the pandemic. "The long-term goal was to do some traveling."
She also teaches at Portland State University and Washington State University and said she will continue to teach college level courses during her retirement.
"I will always be a Pacer and my husband and I will probably still attend all the games that we do," she said. "And as I told every class, and I've told them every year for 44 years: 'Fix the world. You have a duty and obligation to make things better.'"
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