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Butler teacher brings cultural experiences to the classroom

Editor's note: This story was written as a part of the Observer's Explorer Post program, which gives high school students the chance to learn about journalism.

She’s been everywhere from Ireland to Turkey, Egypt to Greece. She has hiked volcanoes, swum in sulfuric waters, camped at Stonehenge, entered pyramid tunnels and sailed the Nile.

Rachel Varghese, 29, is a passionate World History teacher at David W. Butler High and she uses her worldly experience to help bring history to life for her students at Butler, often inspiring many to go on to major in history and pursue related careers.

Through teaching, Varghese strives to encourage her students to want to learn and experience more.

Varghese’s own curiosity for the world around her was developed early in life. When she was a young girl, her father took her to the Charlotte Museum of History to dress up in 1700s clothing.

She was raised taught to understand others and not to judge them. Over time, she became curious about why and how people’s behaviors affected society.

“For a girl who loved stories about people, had a huge imagination, and already had a curiosity about other ways to live life, it was an excitingadventure in my life,” she said. “I was all history.”

After meeting people of many cultures, she grew more tolerant and understanding and even made close Middle Eastern friends.

“The fact that other culturesare so visually intriguing and passionately on display made me study and research more due to their love of their own heritage,” she said. “After 9/11, I started realizing all theracial stereotyping of people of Middle Eastern descent. It made me take on the cause of equal treatment for all.”

Varghese also developed strong opinions of right and wrong. Her time traveling the world made her a crusader for women’s rights, justice for the unserved and simply making honesty more popular again.

Because of her beliefs, she briefly considered law before a former instructor of hers suggested teaching instead.

Stephen Lloyd, her U.S. History and Human Geography teacher at Butler, noticed her passion for her beliefs after graduation.

He recalled how one day after the 2004 presidential election, he told Varghese who he voted for and she began lecturing him about voting for the wrong person.

“Rachel has never lacked forwillingness to stand up for what she believes,” Lloyd said.

But Varghese didn’t want to live debating and pointing out flaws in others’ arguments.

“She seemed to be at a crossroads (of which career path to take),” Lloyd said. “We talked for a bit, and I said, ‘Rachel, how would you feel about teaching here at Butler, your alma mater?’”

Varghese began her teaching career after graduating from the UNC Greensboro in 2004.

Through teaching, Varghese strives to help her students achieve intellectual enlightenment. She believes apathy is a growing issue in today’s society.

“It can be difficult when people have no care for truths, facts, or understanding the cause andissues related to any topic,” she said. “I want people to want to be knowledgeable on topics concerning their fellow humans.”

Adults aren’t passing along the culture of being valuable community members to their children, she says.

“Thus, the role of the teacher is extremely important as they aresome of (those) remaining who has the task of teaching right and wrong, (encouraging) a passion for living and learning, and passing on the ability to run a country full of diverse groups.”

Varghese has already made impacts on several students.

“I’d actually enjoy staying after school just to chat with her,” Intsar Saleh, Varghese’s current World History student, said. “She’s so interesting and she makes history seem so fun, not like those boring teachers I always had.”

She designs lessons that engage and challenge students, takes groups on educational tours, and sponsors the Historical Film Society at Butler, where members select films to expose students to significant historical events.

Varghese said her favorite teachers from Butler helped her shape who she is today.

“They love their contenttheir passions are embraced and demonstratedtheir classrooms are active living (units) because they breathe the air of their content,” she said.

Kimberly Blair, her photography teacher, was one of those whom she admired.

“She is a very bright, articulate, and talented lady,” Blair said. “I was happy to see her hired at Butler to teach history.”

Varghese said she plans to teach for many years to come.

“So few students have any concept of what reality is like for students throughout the world,” Varghese said. “I will continue teaching for the sake of history being passed down to the future generations of our country and also because it is what makes me come alive. Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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