World Traveler: Bringing first-hand experience to the classroom

Horn High geography teacher Greg Hill.

The American Geographical Society (AGS) recently named Greg Hill of Horn High School as a 2019 AGS Geography Teacher Fellow.

The AGS Geography Teacher Fellow program is a yearlong professional development opportunity that enables geography teachers to implement open-source mapping into their classrooms and provides supplementary resources and materials to the teachers. Teachers were selected from across the United States and will receive special opportunities to support their teaching activities for the year.

Hill is one of 50 teachers selected to participate in this fourth year of the initiative. Hill teaches Advanced Placement (AP) human geography. As part of the award for being selected as an AGS Geography Teacher Fellow, Hill will attend the AGS Fall Symposium Nov. 21-22 at Columbia University in New York City.

How do you feel about being named a 2019 AGS Geography Teacher Fellow? And what does that mean for your classroom?

I am beyond honored and excited. The American Geographical Society is one of the premier professional organizations for geographers. I will be able to network with business leaders, government officials, university faculty, and professional geographers. This grants me an opportunity to share real-world examples of geography in action and career paths in geography.

What drew you to education? And geography?

It was my mom that influenced my decision to pursue education the most. She made so many impressions on her students and even their parents over the four decades of her career.

I fell into geography by a stroke of luck. I was teaching world history at Dallas Carter when I got a call from this school I had never heard of called Horn. I came over to interview, and it was for a geography position. I had never thought of teaching geography, but said at the time, “I can do anything for a year and then switch back to world history.” So I dove in head first to learn about geographic education. I went to a training with Linda Hammon at TCU, and my world was changed forever. I fell in love with the subject.  

Did you have teachers growing up that made an impact on you? If so, how?

I had several teachers that impacted me growing up and still have a lasting impact. My teachers – whether at Turner Elementary, Atwell Middle School or at Carter High – all planted a seed in some way that influenced my passion for learning. They expanded my horizons beyond what I could imagine growing up in Dallas.

When and where did you get your start in education?

I started teaching in 1993 at Carter High School in Dallas, which happens to be my alma mater. I spent a year and a half there teaching physical education and coaching football. I was offered a job on the football coaching staff at SMU in 1995 and remained there for two years. In 1997, I went back to Carter to teach pre-AP world history. In the spring of 2001, I was offered a job teaching and coaching at Horn.

How long have you been with Mesquite ISD?

This is my 18th year in Mesquite ISD. I’ve been offered jobs a lot closer to home, but Mesquite has such a good, down-to-earth citizenry that I can’t see teaching anywhere else right now.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I enjoy sharing my passion for understanding our planet both physically and culturally. I also love it when students make connections either to prior experiences or to real world phenomenon.

How many places have you traveled to?

I’ve been to 44 of the 50 states and 19 countries.

What’s the most recent place you’ve traveled to and what did you enjoy about it?

The most recent place I’ve traveled to was Helsinki, Finland. I enjoyed visiting several of their noted sites like the Helsinki Central Library Oodi. It was listed as one of Time Magazine’s “Great Places 2019," and with good reason. It is the library of the future. I enjoyed visiting several schools and talking to Finnish educators on some of their best practices. The food as amazing as well. I never imagined eating a reindeer burger, but it was very tasty.

What has been some of your favorite places to visit and why?

My favorite places to visit keeps growing by the year. Here are my Top 10:

Berlin, Germany – It has a rich history and is one of the most cosmopolitan cities I’ve ever visited.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands – Get away from the touristy parts, and you will find a city that has quaint streets with little shops and cafes. There are a ton of great restaurants and places to visit.

Seoul, South Korea – This had been my No. 1 for several years and is not far behind the other two. Seoul is huge megacity that has all several historical places, but is very much pointed toward the future. The people and the food are amazing.

Chicago, Illinois – Many people love New York, but Chicago wins for me due to its accessibility. Also, Chicago has a slower pace than New York, and you can easily find things to do in its many neighborhoods.

New York, New York – The “Big Apple” lands in this spot for it has something for everyone. On one corner, you can have a Dominican eatery next to an Ethiopian restaurant next to an Italian place. 

Tokyo, Japan – Another megacity, but it is so easy to get around on public transit. It is ultra-modern and clean and has so many things to do.

Copenhagen, Denmark – This is a city that you really don’t see on many travelers' radars; but I was thoroughly surprised at how clean the city was and how accessible it was on foot. Compared to many other European cities, it was one of the most affordable.

Agadir, Morocco – Billed as the “Miami of Morocco,” it has super clean beaches, amazing seafood, lots of entertainment and great shopping.

Helsinki, Finland – Take away the harsh winter and I could live here year round. With a construction boom to modernize, it blew me away with its beauty, great food and even greater people.

Stockholm, Sweden – So much history in this city. Just walking the Old Town (Gamla Stan) will take you hours. For about $50, you can just about all the attractions Stockholm has to offer. 

What have you learned from all of your travels about people and society?

Traveling is the greatest professional development for me as a geography teacher. I have learned that people have many of the same hopes, dreams and concerns that we do in the United States. I try to dive as deep into the local cultures as possible so that if a student asks a question, I can share some firsthand knowledge of the region.

Staying with the Thordsen family for a few days in Germany, I learned so much about German life as they did about life in Texas. I think there was a little hesitation on both our parts given the current geopolitics of the world, but we were able to build a bridge and are now lifelong friends.

When I travel, I do so as an ambassador. I want to build bridges and tear down walls.  

What’s one thing you hope all of your students take away from your class?

My hope is that students take an appreciation or an understanding of the world through geography. I always tell them they don’t have to fall in love with a concept, but they must understand it. The world needs more informed citizens to make better decisions for our future.

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