Wearing a suit of armor or dressing as a Roman centurion or an American colonial soldier doesn’t guarantee that a history teacher will inspire students to learn.But teacher Heath Hamrick said bringing historical figures to life makes for memorable history lessons.His passion for teaching and his engaging wardrobe choices helped earn him the honor of GCISD Secondary Teacher of the Year.“That was pretty much one of the greatest moments of my life so far,” said Hamrick, a newcomer to the school district. “I’m blown away by it. It’s very humbling.”Hamrick, an educator for 10 years, joined GCISD this past school year and teaches social studies — grades 6-11 last year and 7-12 this coming year — at iUniversity Prep: A GCISD Virtual Academy. Hamrick, who teaches world, Texas and U.S. history as well as government, said he enjoys different aspects of each course.“World History has all the diversity you could ever want,” Hamrick said. “Texas and U.S. History have immediate relevance to our lives, and provide great trivia knowledge in case you ever are a contestant on ‘Jeopardy’ or are stuck on long, quiet drives. And government is about as philosophical as a high school class gets.”Added the educator about his affinity for history, “It would be incredibly difficult to teach if you didn’t love the subject so.”As an virtual teacher, Hamrick works mostly from home. His apartment, he said, looks like “something out of NASA” with a computer that features “three screens and all the lights, bells and whistles.”It also is a “museum-like place” where he keeps his work costumes that he occasionally wears while teaching class.Those outfits range from a George Washington to an uncomfortable suit of armor to King Richard the Lionheart. It’s all part of his effort to keep his students entertained as they learn.“I like to spice things up — the suit of armor and others things are an added draw,” Hamrick said.It all started 10 years ago when Hamrick began collecting rapiers — a small sword featuring a narrow blade that was used in the 16th and 17th centuries. “I love that students can interact with various pieces of history,” Hamrick said, adding that his teaching methods include writing supplemental textbook material for his classes. Hamrick’s audience the past school year included about 120 students from across the state who attended class from as far away as Amarillo, Brownsville and Nacogdoches.They were among the first to participate in the iUniversity Prep virtual school, the district’s new state-wide online state-accredited, college preparatory academy that combines the flexibility of online instruction with the availability of face-to-face academic support from site-based teachers. The program is touted as an opportunity for students — many of whom may not fit into the traditional classroom setting — to get a quality education.Kaye Rogers, GCISD’s director of iUniversity Prep, said Hamrick is a wonderful example of their highly qualified teachers.“He is amazing,” she said.Hamrick not only is a popular fixture online when he wears his knight’s suit, but also draws attention when he works on his laptop from the occasional public site such as Starbucks.His fans call him “a walking, talking, clunking iUniversity Prep billboard.” “Oddly enough, the attention always comes after I pull out the laptop and start tutoring in those situations,” Hamrick said. “I suppose if a knight or Revolution-era soldier walks into a Starbucks, no one cares. But a knight pulls out a laptop and starts teaching, now that gets a second look.” Hamrick said he is proud to be a part of a virtual academy that is leading the path toward the future of education.“The idea of being able to help students and engage in their lives in a new and exciting way has me ready to jump into this upcoming year with fresh ideas,” he said.
Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367