SIS World Geography teacher wins award

Sarah Kopplin (left) receiving her certificate from Dr. Jill Underly (right), WI Superintendent. (courtesy Shorewood School District)

     Sarah Kopplin, World Geography teacher at Shorewood Intermediate School, was presented with the Wisconsin 2023 Teacher of the Year Award on May 5, 2022. She is one of five Wisconsin teachers to receive this honor, and now has a chance to represent Wisconsin in the CCSSO National Teacher of the Year program if selected through an interview process. 

    “It’s a pretty incredible recognition,” Kopplin said.

   Kopplin combines individualized, student-led learning with collaboration and civics-based discussion to immerse her students in relevant, captivating experiences. 

   “I have a pretty big passion for authentic learning, and I want students to feel like what they’re learning has a purpose in the world beyond the walls of our classrooms,” Kopplin said. 

   “Mrs. Kopplin received this award because of her passion for social studies education and the innovative, resourceful ways she provides opportunities for all students,” read an article on the Shorewood School District website. “Through her commitment to providing authentic learning opportunities, students in her class leverage their leadership, voice and choice to guide their individual learning experiences.”

    Kopplin aspired to become an educator from a young age.

   “My second grade teacher… I really looked up to her, and she told me that I would make a good teacher. I think that was the first time someone planted that seed in my mind,” Kopplin said. “It kind of changed something inside of me, and I thought, ‘wow, maybe I do want to be a teacher someday.’”

    She was later influenced by her frustration with the way history was taught. 

    “[Social studies used to be] my least favorite class, and the reason was that every time I learned about women, they were in this tiny little box in the corner of the textbook page, and it was like we weren’t part of history at all,” Kopplin said. “I think that anger for how I was learning social studies really motivated me.” 

    Kopplin’s World Geography class focuses on project-based learning rather than objective tests, as inspired by her own experiences in a project-based history class.

    “[That class] was the first time I felt like I thought very deeply about the world and about the past, and that my voice mattered in my learning,” said Kopplin. “I think the combination of my experience in [the] classroom and my anger and frustration with the way that history had been taught… both of those things really motivated me strongly to want to pursue a degree in history.”

    Originally, Kopplin wanted to become a history professor, but her love for teaching younger students set her on a different path. 

    “I had an experience where I was working with the K12 kids and I just fell in love with the goofiness and wonderful craziness of middle school kids,” said Kopplin. “So I switched gears and I pursued a post-baccalaureate program and a master’s degree in education.”

    Outside of the classroom, Kopplin is a member of several district, state and national organizations advocating for social studies education. She’s the president-elect for the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies (WCSS), involved in the National Council for the Social Studies and on the WCSS board of directors in the advocacy subcommittee. One of Kopplin’s goals is to increase social studies instruction time in elementary schools.

    “Nationally, 10 percent of instructional time is spent on social studies in the elementary classroom. The other 90 percent is spent on other things,” said Kopplin. “I feel pretty strongly that this is putting our students in a bad position.” 

    In addition to this, Kopplin is also enabling teachers to focus more on civics in the classroom. 

    “Our organization is trying to help support teachers in terms of having access to good civics teaching materials,” Kopplin said. “There is legislation on the books to try to make a half-credit course a graduation requirement at the state level for all students to take a civics course.”

    Although no legislation has been passed yet, Kopplin will be on a task force this summer to create a set of civics education state standards required for kindergarten through 12th grade. She is also working with Lorna Young, a member of the Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition of Wisconsin, to help Asian Americans feel visible and respected in the classroom and community. 

    “[The coalition] has been combating a lot of Asian hate and hate crimes since the pandemic began, [and] just trying to support the Asian communities throughout our state,” Kopplin said. “I’ve tried to help Lorna and her organization with this [and] get resources into the hands of K12 teachers to teach about different topics related to Asian history and culture.” 

    Above all, Kopplin expresses her gratitude for her place in the Shorewood School District. 

    “I really just enjoy living and working here and being a part of the community… I just genuinely feel like I’m really lucky to have found this place and to be here.”