When Jim Lucot teaches his students about the Holocaust, he just doesn’t tell them about it, he tries to put them in the shoes of the people who actually lived through it.
“I try to make them a bystander,” says Lucot, a graduate of Robert Morris University’s teacher certification program. “I try to make it real for them, to make some analogy to something the students do in their daily lives.”
It’s this type of innovative instruction that has brought worldwide recognition to this 11th grade U.S. history teacher at Seneca Valley High School.
Lucot recently received the 2009 Robert I. Goldman Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that recognizes and supports non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The award was given at the foundation's annual dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Lucot is one of just two educators in the world to receive this prestigious honor this year.
Back in 1999, when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge announced a plan that would enable mid-career professionals to get teaching certification, it caught Lucot’s attention. Then a registered nurse, he had always wanted to become a teacher, and this program finally pushed him to make the change.
Beginning in 2000, he enrolled at RMU’s teacher certification program, taking a class each semester for three years. Soon afterward, he was teaching at Seneca Valley.
Early on, Lucot realized that, although his students were interested in learning about the Holocaust, they new very little about it. “Two things the kids are always interested in are the Holocaust and the JFK assassination,” he says. “Unfortunately, they have very little knowledge of either.”
In his teaching, Lucot looks at Germany’s history long before the arrival of Adolf Hitler, and tries to get his students to understand the causes of the anti-Semitism that reached a boiling point leading up to World War II. He also brings Holocaust survivors, rescuers, and speakers into the classroom in an effort to bring some realism to the subject, which also aids in his students’ understanding.
“The biggest hurdle I face in teaching about the Holocaust,” he says, “is that the students think they know it. They may have read an excerpt of “The Diary of Anne” Frank or heard about the Holocaust in the media. But they have no idea how the most educated country in that continent at that time could do something so horrible.”
Lucot was very pleased with RMU and the guidance he received while in the certification program. “It was outstanding,” he says. “I would never be a teacher if it wasn’t for RMU.”
As a teacher, he finds his greatest joy in seeing that he has made a positive impact on his students. “When they call me from college to tell me that they’re doing something related to what they did in my classes, it really makes me proud.
“Today I have several students who tell me that they want to be history teachers because of me, and that’s the greatest feeling in the world.”