A history teacher helps middle schoolers chart their own course

In her first year at Fordham, Chantal Chevalier took a job in the admission office that showed her the kind of career she didn’t want to pursue.

“I realized that I did not like working in an office,” the Bronx native admits. “I talk too much, and I can’t look at a wall all day.”

When an opportunity arose for her to become a volunteer teacher with Generation Citizen, a group that partners with schools to provide civics lessons, she gave it a shot—and there was no turning back.

“I learned that I have a different connection with kids,” Chevalier says.

In her sophomore year, she began working as a college transition coach for the Student Leadership Network, helping juniors and seniors at In-Tech Academy in the Bronx apply to colleges, find financial aid opportunities, and plan for a big transition, potentially away from home.

Jump-Starting a Career in Education

Meanwhile, she switched her major from psychology to history and began looking into the Graduate School of Education’s accelerated Master of Science in Teaching program. That program, one of more than 30 dual-degree programs at Fordham, allowed her to take graduate-level courses as a senior and earn a master’s degree with only one additional year of study.

Now, after earning a bachelor’s degree in history at Fordham College at Rose Hill in 2020 and her master’s in teaching the following year, she’s a seventh grade history teacher at the City College Academy of the Arts in upper Manhattan. She encourages her middle schoolers to start thinking about college as an option.

“That’s something that I’m really passionate about,” she says. “It’s very overwhelming for a lot of kids, especially if your parents didn’t go to college, or they went 40 years ago. It’s a completely different process now.”

Chevalier is just as passionate about teaching history, and she says that highlighting the human elements of past events is a key to keeping students engaged.

“I try to bring them together through the stories of people,” she explains. “I think that’s where you can learn a lot about human interaction and society, and what makes a society successful and what makes a society fail.”

She is also cognizant, she says, of how histories are told from specific perspectives.

“I think my approach is always to be as honest but as careful as possible, because I never want to put my own opinion into a student’s mind,” Chevalier says. “My job as an educator is to go in and to teach certain skills, to teach certain content, while also acknowledging who I am in this world.”

As a first-generation college graduate who was raised by a single mom, Chevalier is well aware of the challenges many middle school students and families face making ends meet.

“I want to be able to put my kids on to new opportunities, to tell them about the different things that they can do with their lives,” she says. “Where you are and where you were born is not the end-all be-all. You can create your own path, your own opportunity.”

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