Student engagement primary goal of honored social studies teacher

Rob Syphard, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, is Millsboro Middle School’s Teacher of the Year for 2018-19.

MILLSBORO — During the summer months, Rob Syphard stands guard in life-saving mode along southern Delaware’s beaches.

As a seventh-grade social studies teacher, from September into June his mission is to teach students to engage.

“My goal really is engagement. I want them to really want to learn,” said Mr. Syphard. “I feel like that is when most of the learning happens.”

Apparently, the engaging approach is working.

The 28-year-old Sussex County native is Millsboro Middle School’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

One of 16 such building-level honorees, he was among three finalists for the Indian River School District’s overall 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

Born and raised in the Bethany Beach area, Mr. Syphard attended schools in the Indian River School District through middle school. From there he attended Sussex Technical High School, graduating in 2008.

Mr. Syphard, whose dad was a teacher, received a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in school leadership from Wilmington University.

As Millsboro Middle School’s Teacher of the Year, he was recently asked to speak at the school’s National Junior Honor Society induction ceremony.

“It was neat to see the new inductees focused in on my speech, really taking in what I was saying,” said Mr. Syphard. “A guest speaker from the high school is a senior now, and I taught her my first year. She listed her accomplishments and where she’ll be going to college. And that means a lot to me that I might have contributed to that. It’s cool to see their success. It feels good to see my former students grow and become people.”

Mr. Syphard has been in his position at Millsboro Middle School for six years. He offers leadership and problem-solving skills by serving on the school’s instructional leadership team. He employs direct instruction, technology and student-center tasks to help students grasp concepts and work toward developing deeper understanding.

He and his wife Kayla have many family members who reside in the southern Delaware area.

In this week’s People to Meet spotlight: Rob Syphard.

Why social studies?

“I think it started when I was probably in fourth or fifth grade. All the books that I would check out of the library would be World War I or World war II or Vietnam. And I was fascinated by war at first. Then most of the classes that I enjoyed most throughout middle school and high school were social studies.”

“When I went to college I didn’t really declare a major right away but then again it was the history classes that I enjoyed the most. Then, once I got to pick some more focused history classes, that is when I really realized that that is what I wanted to do; spending time in the library, the quirky professors, that it is what I really enjoyed.”

Particular passion?

“What I have found is a fascination with is colonial imperialism and things like that. I had a class in college focused on colonialism in Africa. I did a couple research papers and it was the most research I had done, 20 some sources for one paper. I just really got into the material and that is why I liked it so much. Yes, the imperialism leading into World War I and then into World War II …”

Method of engaging students?

“To do that I try to integrate as much technology and stay up to date with what’s coming next. It seems like every year I look at my plans from the previous year and technology has already changed. So, with that I spend a lot of time in the summer looking for new programs and looking for new technologies because they change so quickly.”

“Since the kids have access to their phones and their computers, that is what brings them in. So, I can help them navigate the internet and credibility of sources on the internet. That is definitely one of my main focuses.”

“I try to give them primary sources as much as possible. We have some pretty good data bases to do that.”

Thoughts as a finalist?

“It is definitely an honor. And having only taught for six years and being surrounded by so many talented people, I don’t know, it really has made me look inward at what I am doing well. It kind of took me by surprise, because I feel like there is still plenty of things that I can do better. Then I also value the responsibility of being that Teacher of the Year. I feel like it puts me in a different position. People will be watching what I am doing, and I need to lead by example. So, I take that responsibility seriously.”

Is leadership in your future?

“I would say that is something I want to do in the future. I’ll be starting my doctorate in the fall. I am going to wait until that is over before I move out of teaching.”

“Interacting with the kids is what I enjoy the most.  But if I get the chance to be an administrator I want to have a focus on curriculum and curriculum design because it is the content that I am most passionate about.”

“So, if I get the opportunity to be a social studies administrator, curriculum-based administrator, I would take that opportunity.”

Leisure time?

“In the summer time, since I was 16 I have been lifeguarding at the beach. Since I have a teaching job I still have my summers off, so I am still able to keep doing that. As I age, staying in shape enough to be a lifeguard is a challenge. But it has become a passion to stay in shape. I do casual races, like 5K charity-type stuff just for fun. And I got into the gym and running distance.”

Closing thoughts?

“As the Teacher of the Year, my message is focused on the importance of great teachers. If you ask anybody about what they remember or what they loved about school, it all comes down to one great teacher that changed their life. My vision or my goal is that that conversation will be about more than just one teacher, about the school as a whole. I believe that every single teacher can and should be the difference making for our young people today.”

“If we expect the most out of our kids, out of our teachers, out of our parents, we will grow to meet that challenge as a community. I believe that education should be at the center of our community. The more that people get involved, the more active they are, the more they will see the positives and all of the good things that happen every day in our schools.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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