Last in a Long Line
Nikko Morris ’21 missed his football senior day twice. As a high school senior, he missed most of his final season with a foot injury. This time, at least he got to choose his fate.
With Covid-19 canceling fall sports, the three-year member of the football team and one of four siblings in his family attending college in 2020, Nikko Morris ’21 had a big decision to make. He could finish college in four years and be the last student to complete the teacher licensure program at Wabash, or complete his licensure elsewhere for a chance at a senior football season.
“It was kind of a kick in the face,” Morris said. “I had to sit down, look at all the options, and then figure out which one worked the best. It not only affected me, but also my brother and my two step-sisters. It wasn’t just what do I want to do, but what can I do, that’s also good for everyone else.”
While students at Wabash can still minor in education studies, moving forward they will need to complete the licensure requirements through another institution. Morris was the last student to be licensed at Wabash.
Morris is a classics major and history and education studies double minor. The Muncie Central (Indiana) graduate credits his own high school classroom experiences with leading him toward a career in education.
One particular teacher that made the classroom interactive and inviting was his government teacher, Julie Snider. He picked up on her ability to engage students in government and politics even if they did not otherwise find it interesting. Snider praised Morris for his demeanor and passion in the classroom.
“He loved talking about politics and sharing his opinion on issues,” Snider said. “But he also showed great respect for his peers. Nikko will be an amazing teacher because of his compassion, his sincerity, his love for social studies, and his outstanding work ethic.”
That work ethic may not have gotten to shine on the gridiron this year, but his outstanding efforts in the classroom both as a student and as a teacher garnered him recognition as the recipient of the Caleb Mills Award in Education Studies and as a co-winner of the McClain Prize in Classics.“
His depth of interest and coursework in classics and the courses he’s taken in our history department have prepared him to teach the history of the world in particularly effective ways,” said Associate Professor of Education Studies Deborah Seltzer-Kelly. “Nikko has also proved to be particularly adept at translating his own college-level comprehension of history to a middle school level—which is something many college students can struggle with as they begin preparing to teach at a middle or high school level.”
He spent his final semester teaching social studies under the supervision of Jason Surber ’92 at Crawfordsville Middle School. Surber has seen growth even in that short time.
“Nikko has improved his classroom management skills and has become comfortable as a teacher. He is developing relationships with students, and I think most of them will be sad to see him go. Certain classes are having a competition to see which class is his favorite. He has fun with the students, which they really appreciate.”
A student in the back corner of Morris’ fourth period social studies class shoots his hand into the air, “Can I draw a dog on the white board?”
Without missing a beat, Morris responds, “No,” and moves back to the topic of the lesson—the Arab-Israeli conflict.“
When kids start to ask questions, and they’re going to have questions,” Morris says, “I really just have to be prepared for anything, because especially in middle school, they’re not afraid to say whatever they want. But every now and then, kids will ask big-thinking questions.
“Teaching requires a lot more energy than you think. Planning and time management are pivotal. (Professors) Dr. Michele Pittard and Dr. Seltzer-Kelly talked a lot about the reflection process. It’s really a useful tool to be able to look at the before, the during, and the after, and make adjustments to stuff on the fly.”
“Nikko is a great student who has really come along in his pedagogy,” Surber said. “He desires to improve in every aspect of teaching, and he reflects on each lesson for continued improvement. Too often, new teachers will come into the profession with an attitude of ‘I already know everything about teaching.’ Nikko will actually seek feedback and desires to be better. That’s a great attribute for any teacher, despite the number of years they’ve been teaching.”
Morris sets high expectations for students as well by requiring them to write daily to reflect on what they learned. This practice also gives him feedback on the effectiveness of his teaching. “Sometimes it’s just a couple sentences about class that day or sometimes they are tying together topics from multiple lessons,” he says. “I’m just trying to get them to think in complete sentences.”
Just like in high school government class, Morris knows not every student in his classroom is as passionate about history as he is, so along with making the material engaging, he wants to show them the relevance of what they are studying.
“Some people will see history as something that’s boring, or think looking at the past doesn’t have any benefit,” Morris says. “I think my favorite thing about teaching history, is you can use history as a window to bridge gaps between different groups of people. You can introduce things like culture, religion, and teach people pivotal points that shaped life in different parts of the world. So when they encounter those things later, they have a base understanding of what it is they’re seeing. “For instance, I can teach kids about cultural elements of Islam. When they see people wearing hijabs or full body covers, they have an understanding of what those are for and what they mean. So by the time they see something, whether it’s out in the world or at work, they aren’t ignorant or offensive. They’re not looking at something blindly and just making assumptions. They’ve got some information.”
“What excites me the most about Nikko becoming a teacher is the energy and commitment he brings to the profession,” says Pittard. “He could absolutely do anything he wants upon graduation, and he’s choosing to be a public school teacher—now more than ever, we need excellent public school teachers.
”Morris is ready for his new role but understands the gravity and difficulty of entering the teaching field right now. “It’s important that there are male teachers, but also Black male teachers. Being able to have the opportunity to get a licensure for secondary education from Wabash is really cool—especially when you look at the history of Wabash going all the way back to the founder of public education, our very own Caleb Mills.”