Rachel Hansen honored for AP Human Geography teaching
by Margaret Hurlbert
May 15, 2022

MUSCATINE, Iowa–For Muscatine High School Advanced Placement Human Geography teacher Rachel Hansen, a love of teaching came naturally. “I’ve just always known I wanted to be a teacher, and my dad was a social studies and industrial technology teacher and my grandma was a teacher at a one room schoolhouse, so I come from a teaching family,” she shared.

After graduating from high school, Hansen’s curiosity about history led her to the University of Iowa, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history as well as a teaching certificate in secondary social studies education, with endorsements in world history, American history, government, and geography. She remembers, “geography was the last one I tacked on, and I’m so glad I did.”

A teacher for the past 13 years, Hansen has spent the last seven of them teaching Advance Placement Human Geography. Commonly taken by ninth grade students experiencing an Advanced Placement course for the first time, Hansen has valued the chance to make a difficult subject accessible for young people.

In particular, Hansen enjoys learning alongside her students, using the tools of geography to probe open-ended questions further, showing how maps can tell a story that gives clues both about the places depicted and the societies that created them. “People think history and geography are such set subjects, but there are still so many unanswered questions,” she observed. “As the lead learner, I can inspire people to be lifelong learners.”

Hansen’s dedication to her students has garnered national attention, as she received the National Council for Geographic Education’s AP Human Geography Distinguished Teaching Award. Dr. Alex Oberle, a member of the Geography Alliance of Iowa, has worked with Hansen for the past 10 years. He also serves as a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, where Hansen will earn a master’s degree in 2023. Kim Young, a social studies teacher in Boston, Massachusetts collaborated with Hansen on National Geographic projects. Recognizing Hansen’s remarkable work with her students, the pair nominated her for the award. “I was personally surprised and super grateful because it came from colleagues who I admire and respect,” Hansen stated. “What I do in the classroom, “it’s not just me–it’s also Alex and Kim and many other teachers in Muscatine and other community collaborators.”

Though forging a path forward in any career can prove challenging, Hansen has found her work as a teacher deeply rewarding. “In teaching, working with students is what I enjoy the most,” she stated.

In time, she hopes some of her students will find that same joy in working with students, possibly even coming back to their hometown to give back to their communities and show students that people just like them can have a future in education: “Tap into the things you’re most passionate about. Find what you’re interested in and pursue it at the highest level and be a lifelong learner,” she urged. “We need great teachers, and we need great teachers that look like the students they will serve.”

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