Pandemic Learning, One Year Later: Melissa Glenn Haber ’87, History

Melissa Glenn Haber ’87 is known for leading engaging and lively discussions of historical texts and events. As a Commonwealth alumna, it is no surprise that she finds joy in “that moment that somebody says something (in the classroom, in the halls), and suddenly pieces fall together for someone else.” Ms. Glenn Haber’s classes inspire curiosity and debate—often leading students to gain new perspectives and opinions. 

Her fervor and excitement for teaching remained steady this year. While she is grateful for the return of more fully in-person engagement, she has creatively connected with remote students through virtual discussion boards, a tool she may continue to use post-pandemic. Read on to learn more about Melissa’s passion for teaching and learning from her students.

What do you love most about teaching at Commonwealth?

At a recent assembly, we heard that Picasso said we should have faith that inspiration will always come—but that it has to catch you working. That pretty much sums up Commonwealth for me: people are so frequently engaged with what they're doing that inspiration often catches them working. That's what I love best about teaching at Commonwealth, and what I loved best about being a student here in the 1980s: that moment that somebody says something (in the classroom, in the halls), and suddenly pieces fall together for someone else because everyone is so receptive. And that, I'm happy to say, happened as often in this ridiculous hybrid year as in any other year. This year, as in every year, students made observations that made me boggle, or made every hair stand up on my arm because their framing resonated with what I already thought—or shifted my thinking into a new frame. But I guess it's not surprising that Commonwealth did so well in the hybrid environment: our mermaid mascot is a hybrid herself, after all.

What is your favorite project/assignment/topic you teach and why?

I cannot decide what my favorite topic to teach is—it could be the Revolt Hypothesis or Book of Jonah or Job in Bible-as-Bible/Bible-as-History, or evaluating Lincoln or the New Deal or The Fire Next Time in U.S. History. When I teach Medieval History, it's probably the assignments on Confucius or Lao Tzu, because all of these are not only intellectually exciting but provide useful ways for thinking about how we navigate the world today. In general the kind of assignment I find most fun is when we read a whole bunch of fairly random sources and try to feel out the zeitgeist in them. 

What hybrid-learning adaptation(s) do you think you'll continue using post-pandemic? 

The pandemic has introduced a new tool for those assignments: the Google Jam Board, where we can put ideas down and then group them into order together. I had thought I'd continue using some of the useful anonymized spaces during class, which felt very helpful for City of Boston once we returned to person... but there's something so vital about being together only with the technology of pen and paper that I might continue to use those only before class. Because I am a big old sap, I will say it's nice to be back in a space where the only electricity we need is the kind that leaps from text to mind and from person to person.

What was your favorite class in high school?

I liked U.S. History, where Mrs. Kaplan told me that I was like a great historian kit with the pieces all mixed up, but probably my favorites were reading Paradise Lost with Mrs. Chatfield, photography with Rusty, Latin IV with Mr. Wharton, and reading Lorca, Borges, Carmen Laforet, and Ernesto Sabato with Tomás Guillermo. Oh, and Philosophy 10 with Jon Gilligan, where we learned that if happiness consisted in bodily pleasures, we would consider oxen happy who had vetch to eat—and read the Gorgias, which Ezra and I talk about pretty much all the time. How could I choose? 

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