Unlocking student potential

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Hillsborough teacher awarded 2022 NSHSS Educator of the Year award

Not many things make Hillsborough High School teacher Robert Fenster prouder than seeing his students thrive.

And thrive they have. Some even have followed in his footsteps into the classroom.

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This is his 30th year in the classroom as a U.S. government and politics and history teacher, the entirety of which has been teaching at Hillsborough High School.

“From my own experience as a student, the best lessons were ones that were student-centered,” he said. “As much as I love lecturing — and my students always want more lecturing — I know that they’ll grow more if they can ultimately teach themselves and each other the most valuable lessons.”

The National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) recently awarded Fenster with the 2022 NSHSS Educator of the Year award for his hard work and dedication to his students.

This is the second time he has earned a NSHSS award. In 2017, he earned the Claes Nobel Top Ten Educator of the Year Award.

And guess who nominated him. A former student, Jack Werner, who is now a teacher.

“I don’t know if I can think of many things that make me prouder to see students who I influenced entering the profession,” he said. “Part of that is a bit of an ego boost in the notion that my teachings will be reaching more students, but ultimately it isn’t about any content I’ve provided, rather the values that I see my former students embracing as they take their own paths.

“Teachers can impart a certain amount of wisdom borne out of their own experiences, but so much of what we do is helping to unlock our students’ potential, and I’m incredibly proud of the many former students who have become educators to help in that mission.”

Fenster says students learn best by doing, a lesson he learned through his younger years in high school, having gone through three years of unimaginative teaching from past social studies teachers. During his senior year, he experienced a wide variety of student-centered lessons like mock trials and elections, simulations, and inquiry-based research – which led him to realizing how important an exciting and interactive classroom is.

Now as a teacher himself, Fenster varies his approach in the classroom – students are given chances to succeed in their areas of strength, while still having to perform in areas that need improvement. His classes are based on the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom model, in which students are given choices on what types of assignments to complete based on their learning goals, often choosing how to demonstrate proficiency and mastery in different ways.

On a given day, there are groups of students in his classroom working on a cooperative learning exercise, another student watching a video on YouTube, a group of students in the hallway filming a video to be presented to the class, a student creating a graphic organizer based on two articles they’ve read, and a group of students designing a game to demonstrate their learning. His goal is to teach them how to become critical thinkers so when they have to make decisions that affect their lives or the lives of others, they can think logically, critically, and soundly.

During his teaching tenure, Fenster has earned many accomplishments. In just the last few years, he has received the Paul A. Gagnon Prize from the National Council for History Education, the 2019 Secondary Education Teacher of the Year Award from the New Jersey Council for Social Studies, the 2019 Law-Related Education Teacher of the Year Award from American Lawyers Alliance, and in 2022, Fenster became part of the 30th induction class into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

NSHSS is the premier honors and scholarship program co-founded by Claes Nobel and James Lewis. It offers a lifetime of benefits, pairing the highest performing students worldwide with high school and college scholarships, events, connections, internships, and career opportunities that begin in high school and carry on through college and careers. For more information, visit www.nshss.org.

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