Susanna Campbell ’23 interviewed High School Economics and History Teacher Mr. Eric White, who came to TASIS in 2017 after teaching in the United States public school system for more than a decade.
When did you start working at TASIS, and what exactly do you do at the School?
I started working at TASIS in 2017, so this is my fourth year. I teach AP US History, AP Economics—both micro and macro—and IB Economics. There are primarily courses for 11th and 12th graders. In addition to that, I'm slated to coach tennis this spring, and in the past I've been involved in the Global Service Program and have led structured study halls.
Could you describe your educational background and your career in education prior to TASIS?
Well, I'm a product of rural Missouri’s public schools. I grew up in a super small town and eventually went to Trinity University in San Antonio, where I studied history for a few years and tried to be a rock star—but that didn't pan out. I had history to fall back on, so I went to get certified to teach and, in the process, got a master’s degree in History from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
I started applying to get into Ph.D. programs in History and Modern Studies, and at the same time I was applying for high school teaching jobs. I didn't get into any of the Ph.D. programs—I aimed a little too high—but I did get a job at a place called Waukesha South High School, a public school in the Milwaukee area, and started teaching there in 2005.
So now I’m in my 16th year of teaching. I taught economics and history out of the gate and spent most of that time in the Wisconsin public school system, but my time at TASIS represents the second longest tenure I've had at any school. Being in my fourth year here, it's become a home for my wife and me, and I can't see going back to teaching in the United States.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
What is my philosophy of teaching? That's always a tough question. I feel like I think a lot about teaching, and I'm very reflective on what I do. But at the same time, I try to keep myself from thinking excessively about teaching because it’s important to find that balance. But anyway, if I were to talk about my philosophy of teaching, I would say it’s that you try to, in as much as you can, build a relationship with students. You try to make a connection with them. Try to be a human being, try to be as compassionate as possible, and try to understand that students are people too and that they're going through a lot of things at the same time that you might be going through a lot of things. I guess I try, more than anything else, to establish that human connection, and through that, try to communicate something valuable through whatever it is I'm teaching.
So whether it's helping give students a better historical context of United States history to help them understand how the country got to where it is today, or teaching people to look at the world through an economic lens, it doesn't really matter what the content is: it's all important content, and all the connections are super valuable. Once you make those connections, students can learn anything. And I firmly believe that. So I approach teaching with the attitude that “everybody in here can do this.” Hopefully, I create an environment where they want to do it.
And look, it doesn't always work. For some reason, you don't make a strong connection with every kid, despite both sides trying their best to. But I think I've been very lucky over the years in that I've been able to make a lot of those connections. I've been able to see students grow every year that I’ve taught.
And finally, as a social studies teacher, you hear a lot of adults talk about how boring their social studies teachers were in high school, so I try not to be that. I try to make the content as engaging as possible.
What has changed most in your outlook on teaching from the start of your career to now?
I think that at the start of my teaching career, it was so challenging that I didn't have any philosophy on teaching. It was more about survival. Now that I have much more experience and know what I bring to the table, and know the degree to which students can learn the different subjects I teach, I can aim so much higher.
At the start of my career, for example, I didn't have a degree in Economics, and yet I was asked to teach it. I had to work hard to make myself better at it, and now that I’ve taught it so extensively over the past decade or so, I actually consider it to be my strongest subject to teach.
So in the beginning you could say I was blind to any sort of philosophy and just wanted to help people—to hopefully not damage their education in any way and instead help them feel more confident, all while becoming better at it myself. I’ve gone from that sort of blindness to now understanding that with time and with making connections, students can learn anything, and I feel pretty good that I'm teaching something valuable. And that's nice. So it’s not so much that my philosophy has changed but that I’ve simply developed a philosophy, period, over the years.
What is the most rewarding thing to you as a teacher?
I think it is teaching a lot of the IB and AP classes. These are students who are maybe a little mystified by what the AP or the IB means. They know these will be college-level courses and they'll be taking exams that mean something to their future, but even though they want to stretch themselves and try these sorts of things, they can be intimidated by it all.
So the most rewarding thing is helping students get over that intimidation. And sometimes it's tough. IB Economics is just tough, right? It's intimidating. But getting as many students as possible to that point where not only are they not intimidated by it but things have begun to click and they’ve been able to thrive—particularly for those who have turned around from not getting it at all—is the goal.
Seeing that clicking happen with students who started out struggling a bit is extremely rewarding. And it happens every year. Students start to like the subject better when they don't feel overwhelmed by it. There's no secret to any of it—it's just time, the amount of time you spend doing any of this stuff. It’s not unlike rehearsing for a dance, working on your music, or perfecting a good sketch.
It's the same with economics and history: it just takes rehearsing over and over and over again. And as long as students are willing to do that, I see so much growth. I think students can come to a class with different abilities, but that is almost never the factor that separates them in the end. The students who deliver the best results are those who worked the hardest.
I feel that if I've helped foster the development of that type of student, I’ve done my job. I am always looking to match the output of my students. When I see students working, I will spend as much time as I can with them to help them in whatever way I can. So my wife might say I spend too much time at school—and certainly I could get better at finding a balance—but there is something very motivating about someone who is trying really hard to figure it all out and is making progress. That makes you forget that the clock is ticking, and time sort of melts away.
“The students who deliver the best results are
those who worked the hardest.”
What do you like most about teaching at TASIS specifically?
Certainly it’s getting such a variety of students from so many different national backgrounds. It makes teaching economics a lot cooler because those times when you need to talk about global examples of these economic forces unfolding, TASIS students are just aware of so many things that take place in their home countries. This adds a dimension to our discussions that you simply can't get in rural Wisconsin or suburban Milwaukee. The fact that students have been so exposed to the world just unlocks different possibilities for classroom discussion.
And what do you like most about the TASIS community, outside of work?
Well, over the years, I've gotten to know a lot of people. This is the fourth year I've taken the faculty Italian course with Mr. D’Azzo, and I've built a friendship with him such that last year we ended up going down to Sicily together. And then there are friendships I’ve developed with people like Mr. Chevalier, who I get to talk football with a little bit so that we can still have a connection back to the United States and think of home that way.
People have been very flexible and very sensitive. A couple years back, for example, my uncle who I was very close to died. In the States, it would have been hard to negotiate time off from a public school setting. But Mr. Nikoloff was super cool in recognizing how important my uncle was to me and letting me travel back.
Having this kind of close-knit, caring community makes the whole work situation feel a bit more human, I guess you could say. This is a busy place and sometimes it can be hard to catch your breath, so it’s good that we’re all looking out for each other.
It's obvious that a lot of things are different at TASIS this year. How is the school year going so far for you?
Well, I feel like we've been very lucky that things have been able to return slightly to normal—that we’re even able to have in-person classes. And I’m also surprised to the degree to which we've been able to come to school and stay in classes, whereas plenty of schools around the world don't have that luxury. It truly is a luxury.
With that said, I do worry about rising cases in other places. I do worry about students and fellow teachers maybe feeling a false sense of security with things. And so there is this kind of edginess to the school year where you're like, how long can we keep this going? And there are certainly some challenges like having a mask on and not being able to easily get into groups and whatnot. It feels like I'm just doing so much more talking than I've done in the past, as I normally try to get the students to do as much as possible. But we're in our little fish bowls here, and it's so tough to have as much variety as you would want in the classroom. But that's not to say there aren’t ways to work around that.
I guess I would say I've been happy with the amount of normalcy we've been able to get by with, and I think the School has done everything in its power to make everyone feel safe and to give students as good of an experience as possible. We’re doing the best we can with a difficult situation, and hopefully it can all continue.
“Mr. White is very passionate and enthusiastic about the subjects he teaches. He is very understanding and easy to go to for help, and he spends the time to actually help students understand the material, more so than the typical teacher would. I am in both his APUSH (AP United States History) and AP Macroeconomics classes. What I enjoy most about his classes are the organization and flow of his material, which is easy to follow. For example, he gives us guided notes and is generous in the amount of time he gives us to complete assignments, so we are not stressed.”
– Sonia Bartel ’22
“Mr. White is very interactive and involved with his students. He is also super understanding and compassionate, so he really cares about his students. Every day he is consistent with what he teaches us, so we all feel prepared going into assessments. I have also noticed how he is always positive.”
– Elle Kirby ’21