Rebecca Ball was born and raised in Ann Arbor, and attended Haisley, Forsythe, and then Pioneer High School, from which she graduated in 1990. She earned a bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Theatre from UCLA. She lived in Los Angeles for seven years before returning to Ann Arbor. Going away for a time was an adventure, but she missed home.
Ball has taught in the Ann Arbor Public Schools for 18 years. Four of those years were spent at Skyline, and the rest at Pioneer. She currently teaches ninth grade World History and eleventh grade AP Government. Her father taught American Government for 50 years at Oakland Community College, so she feels she is in the family business.
Pioneer senior Billie Hoffmann, who was a student in Ball’s world history and AP government classes, says that Ball engages students in thoughtful and enriching discussions throughout class and teaches in a variety of ways including lectures, online quiz games, videos, and creative projects.
“Ms. Ball is one of the best teachers I have ever had,” says Billie. “She genuinely cares about the academic success and general well-being of all of her students and will give them the tool they need to succeed. She goes out of her way to help students with anything they need. During online school Ms. Ball worked hard to find creative ways to keep students engaged in the content and have discussions with each other.”
Ball and her husband, Brian, have two sons. Joey attends Slauson Middle School, and Sam is a sophomore at Pioneer. She is proud to be a working mom, inspired by her mother, a CEO in the 1980s when women had to fight for equal recognition in the workplace.
The family also includes four cats and what Bell calls “a not-especially-bright but very sweet” black lab. When not working, Ball spends time with her family, or on crafts such as quilting and crochet. She enjoys kayaking and walking near the river. She also likes to write, and has been working on a fantasy novel for about 30 years that she says she may—or may not—finish one day.
What will you remember most about the school year 2020-21?
Teaching online was certainly a new experience and presented serious challenges, like having to rework so much of the curriculum and trying to establish relationships with students I couldn’t see. But I will remember the very powerful discussions we had despite the difficulties, and the many kids who might not normally have been willing to contribute who were able to give their opinions on the chat. I was really proud of all my kids persevering through the crisis.
How is this year going so far?
Very well, I think! The students have been great about wearing their masks, and aren’t letting it get in the way of their learning. It’s wonderful to be able to be in person again, to make connections and be able to gauge reactions. It makes such a difference.
When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
I was hired a few days before the school year began, so my first year is a bit of a blur of trying to keep up with the kids. I taught only freshmen Civics in my first year, and I remember especially the kindness of my colleagues in helping me with lessons and advice and a shoulder to lean on.
When you were a Pioneer student, did you ever picture yourself teaching there?
Oh, heavens, no! I was going to be an actress! It wasn’t until grad school, when I taught acting and voice classes to undergrads, that I realized how much I loved teaching.
What are some of your favorite memories of Pioneer when you were a student there?
I was a member of Theatre Guild, and all of my high school memories revolve around it. It was my life. My senior year, I was cast in the competition play, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, by Tennessee Williams. The play dealt with the quite controversial issue of rape, which was simply not discussed at that time, and I was exceptionally proud of our work.
And what are some of your favorite memories now as a teacher?
I have been most inspired when my students become engaged with the topics we study, when they jump in with passion, when their joy in learning bursts forth.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
My father is the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. He spent decades fostering a love for government through his gentle humor and quiet care of his students. I aspire to be even half as powerful a teacher as he is.
In your 18 years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?
I think the most important thing I have learned is that we—students and teachers and administrators and parents—are all just people doing our best, and that flexibility and caring and assuming goodwill are critical prerequisites to learning.
What’s one of your hidden talents?
I make a mean panini sandwich.
What makes teaching at Pioneer unique?
I have always felt so much support in this building for myself as a professional, and for the process of teaching. Perhaps because it is a college town, there has always been a deep love of learning, I think, that permeates everything about this place.
How do you keep students engaged?
I do my best to use many methods of instruction: lecture, supplementary readings, debate, socratic seminar, creative projects, simulations. This was difficult during remote learning, but now that we are back in the classroom, I will be able to bring back some of my favorite activities, such as a debate over the Cuban Missile Crisis, a mock Congress, an election simulation with a town hall meeting, an Indian Ocean Trade simulation, or a World War I game of alliances.
How do you show school spirit?
I wear a great deal of purple.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
When students continue discussing our topics outside of class time, when the bell rings and they are still arguing or hashing over our discussion, when they come to me on their own time to ask questions or debate an issue—that gives me such joy.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
We are not here to indoctrinate, but to give young people the tools to think analytically, to consider thoughtfully, to come to conclusions rationally.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
I have spent my life in a state of constant anxiety over not being good enough, and I think, personally and professionally, I am finally beginning to feel content with myself.