Student Receives Fulbright Teaching Assistantship

John Simpson photo

During his middle school years, John Simpson’s family moved from the urban sprawl of the Cincinnati area to rural LaFollette, Tenn., to care for an ailing family member.

The move allowed the teenage Simpson, now a senior at Eastern Kentucky University, to learn more about his family roots and come to realize “that my father’s years of schooling had not deprived him of the valuable stories or skills passed down to him in childhood.

“Through talking to the older members of the community, I learned more than I ever could have imagined – from illegal marriages to Cherokee refugees to battles between union miners and strikebreakers. I developed a stronger sense of my own identity and learned more than a few skills that may have been lost to time.”

Now Simpson, the recent recipient of a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship, wants to provide the same eye-opening experiences to young people in the Republic of Georgia, an ancient country that sits at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The senior secondary English teaching major and Honors Scholar from Burlington, Ky., will arrive in Georgia this August and spend nine months teaching the English language and American culture. In addition to opening a dialogue between students in Georgia and their counterparts in the U.S., Simpson hopes to draw on his own experiences in Tennessee to build bridges of trust and respect that span generations of Georgians.

“In Georgia, there is a growing tension and misunderstanding between those who lived before the Rose Revolution (which resulted in a change of power in the nation in 2003) and those who have spent the majority of their lives in its wake,” he said.

While in Georgia, Simpson will ask his students to interview older adults in their lives about skills such as skinning and tanning, growing food in the mountains, herbal remedies, folklore, instrument building and carpentry techniques.

“I hope my project will allow for communication between generations and prevent young Georgians from losing touch with their cultural identity.”

Simpson has been student-teaching this semester at Model Laboratory School, ironically under the tutelage of Carol Ruppel, who taught in Slovakia as a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-10. (Five years earlier, Ruppel’s husband, EKU economics professor Dr. Fred Ruppel, was also a Fulbright Scholar in Slovakia.) Simpson sees his upcoming Fulbright experience as another important stepping stone in his professional development.

“For me, teaching internationally before I teach in the United States is not just a goal,” Simpson said. “It is a necessity. To give my students a true picture of the international community that will be their world, I know I will have to bring something more to the teaching profession than standardized test scores and observation hours. I now know that I must experience many different cultures before I can become an educator capable of showing students how their own stories are interwoven with the saga of their community, and that they hold the eternal choice of enriching the story of this earth or allowing it to stagnate.”

Simpson added that the assistantship will also further his knowledge of teaching “by providing an opportunity to learn from the teaching methods I find in Georgia, from the ‘Palace of Pupils’ activity centers to the institutional loyalty that develops by placing students in the same school from grades 1-11. I hope to see firsthand what Georgian ingenuity has brought to education.”

Simpson, a 2007 graduate of Conner High School in Boone County, Ky., has applied his own ingenuity as a tutor and mentor for EKU student-athletes in the Bratzke Student-Athlete Success Center and for some of the University’s international students.

As a member of EKU’s Honors Program, he has presented at regional and national honors conferences on topics as diverse as modern slavery, ideological globalization and the Haymarket Massacre.

“Trips with the Honors Program … have allowed me to get used to being in unfamiliar cities and have shown me a larger world,” Simpson noted.

For Simpson, it’s a world that will soon grow even larger.

Published on April 14, 2011