Of the new teachers at Blake this year, one of the most notable would be our world history teacher, Mr. Lee Benswanger. Although this is his first year at Blake, not even being virtual last year, Mr. Benswanger has already integrated himself into the administration and culture. He’s the class of ‘24s sponsor, he helps with the announcements when we have odd block days, and he’s planning a trip for students to travel to Italy next year during spring break. To go along with his big personality, he’s made a big impact on students already.
Before coming to Blake, Mr. B had a very decorated past. He’s been in the military, sales, a long-term sub, but after experiencing all of these careers, he decided teaching was his passion. “I had the opportunity to restart my life in 2015, I had a friend who got me into the sub program, and I became a long term sub, and I’m like, ‘This is what I should’ve been doing for the past 30 years,’” he says. “And I loved it, and I haven’t looked back. I mean, it’s the first job I actually enjoy coming to everyday.”
Mr. B is very vocal about how long it took him to complete college. He went to seven different colleges, and it took him 23 years to get his bachelor’s degree. “I started at East Carolina, down in Greenville, North Carolina, stayed there for two and a half years, dropped out, came home, took some classes at Maryland, took some classes at MC, and then I joined the army,” he begins. “In the army, they have education centers where many colleges will come and teach you classes. So I took classes with Murray State and Drury. I finally graduated from Columbia college—not the good one, not Columbia University in New York—Columbia college in Missouri, so…but I still say Columbia. And then my master’s degree is from Mount Saint Mary’s.”
He’s been having a lot of fun teaching at Blake so far. Mr. B is very in tune with his students—he says it’s because he has the “mentality of a 15 year old.” He’s great with dealing with teens on a daily basis. “I’ve enjoyed it. The kids are nice, I wish they were more enthusiastic, but I understand coming from a virtual environment makes it tough. I can’t think of many students who I’ve ever had any sort of issue with. They’ve got great personalities. When you get them to start talking about something they enjoy, they’re very animated about it, so I enjoy it.”
Although he wasn’t teaching at Blake last year, he understands how learning has changed in the past few years. “I don’t know if they are learning or not, and I know last year most of you did not,” Mr. B comments. “I know most of you did what you had to do to get a grade and that was it and I understand that, so I so much prefer in-person learning.” Mr. B also enjoys making class entertaining, being a “comic,” so he prefers being able to “gauge his audience.”
He also notes that his experience with teaching history specifically has been affected by covid. “I’m a history geek, I love history and I try [to] impart that to my students because it’s those little fun stories that make history more interesting. If I were to just get up here and read, you know, the dates and ‘this happened at this point,’ and not discuss the why and the little details, that would make it more boring. But the problem is, especially after last year, the 11th graders this year were only in school for half a year before the coronavirus hit. So when they came into school, they really still were technically emotionally 9th graders. I’m missing out on trying to get kids excited about a subject that they really don’t feel is important, even though everything that has happened in the past is happening again.”
When asked about his favorite part of teaching, Mr. B says, “Every teacher will say the same thing, it’s when that lightbulb goes off and they understand what you’re talking about. Every single teacher. When you see that understanding, or when you see them excited about a topic you just taught them. That’s the best part of teaching.” He also says that when it comes to history, he loves mentioning outrageous facts that gets students researching and learning more out of curiosity.
Mr. Benswanger wants his students to know that when nobody is around, he sings really loudly, and he plays a mean air guitar and air drums. But on a more serious note, he’s a very, very understanding guy. “I share everything! Something about me is that I was not a good student, because high school did not fit my learning style. But that doesn’t mean that you should give up on your learning. I learn now. I want people to know that whatever they’re going through I’m here. I was a student, I was a teenager, I have daughters, I’m a dad first and then I’m a teacher. Life happens and life gets in the way. I’m understanding of it as long as you talk to me about it. Most teachers are the same way.”
Mr. B is such an amazing teacher, and overall a great guy, too. If you plan on taking honors world history or have any questions about his planned Italy trip, talk to him in E279! You can always find him standing outside of his classroom in passing periods, saying hi to each of his students.
“Honestly, if I’m not teaching, I don’t want to do it,” he says. “I can’t imagine not teaching. I’m going to work as long as I can, retire, and then go live on a golf course.”