Why teaching history is personal for this Northwest staffer


Jocelyn R. Silverstein

Mr. Parry in his classroom at Northwest High School.

Jocelyn R. Silverstein, Reporter

If Nathan Parry’s grandparents hadn’t fled Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia at the beginning of World War II, he may never have found his life’s work.

An Advanced Placement history and economics teacher at Northwest High School, Parry attributes his passion for helping students analyze and learn about the past to his own upbringing. In addition to finding out how his mom’s parents came to the United States, he also discovered that his father’s ancestors were indentured servants in the 18th century.

“I’ve always had an interest in history. And that kind of really started young when my parents would take me to Civil War reenactments and Revolutionary War reenactments. And it was always a fun little thing to do as a kid,” he said. “My grandfather was always into history, and would always tell stories of the family growing up in D.C., back in the early 1900s.”

Parry has invested a lot of time and energy in doing genealogy research to dig up details on his ancestry. As a result of this personal research, he is really intent on lighting the spark of curiosity in his students.

Sitting in his comfortable portable classroom on an October morning before school started, Parry outlined some advantages to teaching in a building outside the main school. One thing he likes is the unfettered ability to control the thermostat, something he wouldn’t be able to do if he had a regular classroom. In addition, he appreciates the less chaotic surroundings.

“It’s a lot quieter out here. It’s a lot calmer,” he said in an interview. “And I think that improves the educational environment when you don’t have all the distractions in the halls and people running around and doing things. The trade-off is on cold mornings like this. You’ve got to walk out here when it’s raining [too]. But you know, that’s not a terrible trade-off, right?”

Parry is particularly fond of teaching AP students.

“AP students are the high fliers, and they ask the questions, they’re interested in the material. And that makes a big difference when you show up to your job when other people are interested in what you’re doing and what you’re saying and want to be there,” Parry said.

Parry is also convinced there is a correlation between doing well in school and being successful in life.

“I think when [people] are well-rounded students, that will make them better adults, because they’ll become candidates for jobs, they’ll go into the work environment with a better work ethic, better communication skills, and more knowledge,” Parry said.

Parry went to Gaithersburg High School and he worked there as a teacher after he graduated from college before coming to Northwest. He is also interested in sports and works with lacrosse and track officials in Montgomery County. Despite all of this, he still feels like a student sometimes.

“Even to this day, my former junior high school English teacher [is] Mr. Lightsey … I will not call him Al. I never will call him that. It’s always going to be, ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Lightsey. No, sir, Mr. Lightsey,’” Parry said. “And he called me up not too long ago, and he used some guilt on me. He was like, ‘you have to do this.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, I will do it, because you’re my high school English teacher and you’re telling me what to do.’ Even at age 39, I’m still doing it.”