2016 is the year of Virginia’s latest achievement on the national scale. No, I am not talking about the Presidential Election. A different election is more prominent for Social Studies Teachers. For in 2016 India Meissel was elected to be the Vice President of the National Council for the Social Studies. This is just the most recent accomplishment that India can place on her achievement belt. And this is where I want our story to end. But first, we should visit the place she began – in Suffolk, Virginia.
India’s parents (Dr. and Mrs. Sharpe) were always prominent members of the Suffolk Community. She grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia, but moved to the “country” up off route 17. India attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, (my alma mater) graduating in l986. And this is how we first met. I was already teaching at Churchland High School and was the department chair for social studies, so she was assigned to me as a “student teacher”. I was deeply involved in celebrating the Bicentennial of the Constitution in l987 – and naturally India volunteered to help sponsor our regional meetings. The Jefferson Meeting on the Constitution was our first joint endeavor, but it certainly would not be our last. She was definitely a fast learner. But she took to heart the not so subtle suggestion that becoming a professional educator involved participation in both the VCSS and NCSS. It was part of the total package. From that point, she was fully engaged in making a difference. She earned her MS in Curriculum and Instruction/ Education from ODU in 1996.
India’s career took off, and before long she landed a job at Lakeland High School. Her strongpoint was US History, but she also knew how to teach “just about anything” they offered her. She had such natural talent as an educator as well as a parent. She taught AP as well as the what we lovingly call the “regular” classes. Soon, India was participating in state conferences and workshops. Her love of history also advanced her working with Colonial Williamsburg, becoming a Master Teacher in their Idea of American program. Our professional relationship continued throughout the decades, as I was elected to the VCSS presidency in 1990 and then to the NCSS Board of Directors in l993. India was always supportive, and then ultimately she was elected to be the VCSS Teacher of the Year in 2006 and then the NCSS Teacher of the Year.
India’s star was shining brightly as she was then elected to be a member of the NCSS Board of Directors in 2010. The NCSS represents nearly 30,000 K-College teachers. This is where the academics and educators share lessons and pedagogy. Her passion for teaching clearly landed her a place on this prestigious national stage. Now, after winning this most recent election, India’s future contributions to the NCSS will be solidified. India will serve a three year sequence of national leadership: First as President-Elect, then as Vice-President and finally as President of the NCSS. Along the way she has led the organization by serving on the planning committees of the annual National Conference of NCSS members. She is currently serving as the Conference Co-Chair of the NCSS Conference to be held in Washington D.C. in 2016.
The truth is that a simple salute is insufficient to thank India for devoting her life to the Social Studies Profession. Her husband Howard and her daughter Austin have shared this role as they supported every late night she spent, every meeting she attended, and every hurdle that is inevitably placed upon a teacher. India worked not only at the high school, but also at the college level. India taught some classes at Paul D. Camp Community College. I frankly don’t know how she was able to accomplish so much and remain, as always, poised and approachable as she is today. In this Spotlight, I want to share what I have learned about professional teachers simply by having the privilege of working with her all these years.
Three decades is a long time. For those of you who are just starting your career, she should stand as a model for professional excellence. And for those of us who are in our reflective sunset, I want to publicly acclaim that as long as we hold the shared goal of educating young people about our national history and its governance, teachers like India Meissel should provide a standard of excellence and inspiration to us all. You go girl! td