John Scheibel, a teacher at the Washington Jesuit Academy in Northeast D.C., left his job on K Street to become a middle-school teacher. Last week he gave his class a real-life lesson on his former job, bringing them to the Hill for a mock lobbying session.
"I was amazed at his ability to transition from flying coast to coast, running up and down the Hill, sitting in meetings that were business-changing," Whitaker said in his office across the parking lot from Providence Hospital. "He's just made us so much better."
Head of the Class
Anyone who thinks a teaching job is cushier than one on K Street has never observed Scheibel in front of a dozen preteen boys. His quietly firm, calm style along with a constant flow of dialogue, positive feedback and, yes, even magic tricks keeps "the guys," as he calls them, engaged.
"It's a grind," said Scheibel, who also coaches the school's baseball team. "You are the only adult in the room. It's very intense."
The students spend 12 hours a day at the school, eat three meals in the cafeteria and have a study hall after dinner to complete their homework. A four-inch-thick binder holds the lesson plans for one semester of one class.
But Scheibel says he loves it.
"The fact is the kids inspire me," he said. "So many of the kids show courage on a daily basis, and it makes me want to get better as a teacher. They are often hysterically funny. They make me laugh every day."
Earlier this month, in the second week of the new school year, Scheibel assigned his sixth-grade social studies students a one-page autobiography. The next day, he invited them to read their handwritten papers to the class. "It's totally voluntary," he told them.
At first, few hands went up, but by the end, with time running out in the period, the students vied for the chance to make presentations. Perhaps it was because Scheibel focused on what each of the students did well and invited the other students to offer their thoughts, too.
"He expressed himself," explained one student. "He made eye contact with the audience," offered another.
In their essays, the kids dished about their favorite sports teams and the types of food they didn't like, mostly vegetables. They also revealed intimate details about their family structures and the hardships they've experienced. One lives with his grandmother, another with an aunt and uncle. Some were the children of single parents. One boy talked about his dad, who had been in prison four times.
It was, in part, a way for Scheibel to get to know his students. But he had a bigger purpose for assigning the autobiographies early on in the school year.
"Each one of you has a story," Scheibel said, noting that history can be broken down into two words: "his story." He pulled out a deck of cards, captivated them with a magic trick, then quickly showed them what he had done.
The point: "The conclusion you draw may depend on how you look at it," he said.
Geoff Gonella, president of Cornerstone Government Affairs, said Scheibel has an amazing ability to relate to the students, to communicate on terms they understand. Gonella should know: He has sat in on Scheibel's classes because he and his wife are helping sponsor a student at the school.