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Dressing up history
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Many United States presidents had careers outside the realm of politics before they began stumping. George Washington worked as a surveyor in his early 20s and Abraham Lincoln farmed, split rails for fences and kept a store in New Salem, Illinois, before making the leap into government.

Jeff Ransom, 11th grade social studies teacher at Newton High School, worked in construction management for several years before deciding he wanted to teach.

"It was my mid-life crisis job," Ransom said. "Some guys get cars - I started teaching."

Although it seems radical career change, Ransom said it was really not a stretch for him.

"First of all, I'm a little immature - according to my wife - and so I get along well with teenagers," Ransom said, "and second, I love telling stories - people sneak away from me at parties once I get going."

Ransom devotes half of a corner closet in his classroom to period costumes. For any given lesson he can pull a tricorn hat or a World War II era German army helmet out of his closet and bring history to life within the tiled floors and florescent lights of his classroom.

However, history is not just dress-up to Ransom, although he does have his students dress up each year for a sing-a-long with the movie musical "1776."

Ransom said history is an important subject because it gives students a sense of how culture arrived at this moment as well as their place in it.

"I've always loved history," Ransom said. "I wasn't a stellar student in high school - I did better in college, but I've always wanted to know what makes our country different from other countries."

While many students consider Ransom's project assignments - such as designing a cereal box based on a historical figure, writing letters to Ben Franklin or keeping a first-person explorer's journal - fun, most of his students also would say his multiple choice tests are among the most difficult they have faced in their academic careers.

Ransom has a reason for the intricacy of his questions.

"I do that to try to get them prepared for AP [advanced placement] tests and for when they get to college," Ransom said. "I get sick at the fact that a majority of college freshman go home after two years."

Ransom said the biggest challenge he faces is student apathy.

"You don't have to want to go to college, but you have to care about what you're doing next week," Ransom said.

Intelligent students who don't live up to their potential frustrate him the most.

"You see kids that are working through disabilities and other stuff and others that are just lazy," Ransom said.

And lazy is definitely something Ransom is not.

Because he wrote a paper about how Thomas Jefferson influenced the foundation of the United States - on his own accord - he is one of 20 teachers invited to a Bill of Rights Institute symposium in November.

The symposium called "Origins and Arguments: Shaping the Bill of Rights" will allow the teachers to share what they know and make a plan for incorporating their knowledge into their curricula.

Although most of the discussions Ransom leads in his class involve events which happened in the past, he tries to dedicate some class time to current events such as the recent civil rights controversy involving high school students in Jena, La.

He said the interaction with students is the best part of his job.

"I love teenagers - they keep you young, and the ones who are eager to learn outnumber the ones who aren't," Ransom said. "The kids are just great."