Erica Baba

History at Summit Sierra

Tell me about yourself and why you teach.

I did my undergrad at UC San Diego, went to Stanford for my Masters, and was a student teacher at Summit Everest with Greg Ponikvar. This is my 6th year at Summit! I helped to found Summit Sierra 3 years ago.

I went into education because it’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 5 years old. The ages of students I would like to teach have changed, but it was a dream of mine since I was little. I was very lucky to have great teachers growing up and to love going to school. Since starting in education, my purpose has focused on serving underserved communities, especially after coming from a high school that was not like that.


Why do you teach this subject (History)?

My major in college was sociology. I love studying society, race, gender, and class. You can infuse that into history really easily. It is so cool to explain to kids how certain things exist today because of something that happened in the past. You can also teach history through a variety of lenses and perspectives.


Talk to us about your mentor group. How has mentoring changed your teaching experience?

It is one of the best parts about teaching at Summit Public Schools. Being able to build really strong relationships with kids and their families is really special. Now that I have a junior mentor group, my families all know each other and we can look back and laugh at the awkward freshman year gatherings we had. I get to walk with my mentee students through their high school journey. I’ve been able to see them really transform and mature. Also, mentoring 11th grade is so different than teaching 9th grade; it’s nice to be part of both.


What has been your best moment as a teacher?

We had a mock trial last year about British and Belgian imperialism in India and Congo. Students worked together. “Lawyers” had one-to-one check-ins with “witnesses.” It was cool to see the students get so involved in the entire process of the mock trial. Then, seeing them run the show, and the sense of community that came through the experience is great.


How does Summit support you as a whole person?

The reason why I’ve been at Summit for so long is because I learn something new every day. There is never a boring day here. I’ve been able to learn and grow and also have a voice in faculty meetings, grade-level team meetings, etc.


What parts of your identity have been most salient to you as a teacher? How have these pieces of yourself helped you to connect further with your students?

I am first, fourth and fifth generation Japanese American. My dad came here when he was almost 30. A few years ago, we did this American Identity story and it was cool sharing my family’s immigration story and personal history with the kids. In World History this year, we’ve talked a lot about reparations… should the US pay reparations for slavery? What kind of reparations has the US paid previously in history? My grandpa was interned during WWII and received reparations, so I shared my interview with him with my students; he shared about education being a more valuable reparation than monetary reparations. Two years ago, the English teacher and I took our students down the street to the Nisei Veterans Hall, where students learned more about Japanese internment and about my grandpa’s history. I hope all kids can see themselves reflected in history class.

Because of my ethnic background, one student told me I was his first teacher of color. He was in 9th grade. He said it was really interesting to learn history from someone who isn’t white.


What would you tell a potential teacher interested in Summit?

Get ready for high highs, low lows and everything in between. But it is a place where you will not get bored, and it’ll be what you make of it. I also always think I work with the best faculty in the world. We have a really strong faculty culture at Summit Sierra. In the cold months in Washington it can be dark, long, and hard, but people remain really positive.


What’s been your biggest challenge as a teacher?

The very heterogeneous classrooms, meeting the needs of so many different learners, and kids who want to extend their learning can be hard. How do we truly personalize in a way that’s sustainable? In general, another challenge is maintaining balance and learning to let go. No lesson is perfect.