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History teacher Alla Chelukhova tries to make her classroom comfortable and welcoming.
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Students and colleagues say Chelukhova encourages students in critical thinking and making connections in her history class.
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Chelukhova with her Grade 11 history class at the charter school in Adams.

Teacher of the Month: Alla Chelukhova

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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Alla Chelukhova first dreamed of being a teacher when she attended first grade in Moscow; it was an eye-opening experience at Colorado College that reinforced that desire.
ADAMS, Mass.— Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School history teacher Alla Chelukhova has been selected as the April Teacher of the Month. 
This concludes the first season of the Teacher of the Month Series. The series ran for the last 12 months in partnership with Berkshire Community 
Due to its success, the series has been renewed for another 12 months, and we need nominations. Staff, students, and parents are encouraged to nominate a distinguished teacher. Nominate a teacher here
Chelukhova has been teaching for 26 years. She knew since the first grade that this was the path she wanted to take. 
She recollected on her first day of first grade. Her teacher was "young," "kind," and "dynamic" and made her feel seen, which did not happen in what was then a totalitarian society, Moscow native said. 
That day, she went home, lined all her stuffed animals up, and started teaching them. 
At the time, little did she know that she would be teaching in America rather than in Russia, where she was born and raised. 
Chelukhova was selected to work as a teaching assistant at Williams College, marking her first teaching position, during her junior year at Moscow City Pedagogical University.
"I just loved it. I fell in love with it at Williams College. Now, I'm in middle school and high school, I love it even more," she said. 
She transferred to Colorado College in Colorado Springs to earn her bachelor's degree in political science. 
"I fell in love with teaching for the second time after I became a student in the United States because I saw what education can do to students from a student perspective," she said. 
She recollected the first time she was sitting in class after transferring to Colorado and listening to her classmates challenging the professor. 
"They started disagreeing with a professor. They started telling the professor that some of their beliefs were not correct and they reasoned that provided evidence for their beliefs," Chelukhova said. 
"For me, it was revolutionary because this is not something that Russian children practice in education. This is not something that Russian teachers allowed when I was a student, so I really loved the freedom of thinking and the critical thought that went into education here in the United States." 
In Russia, Chelukhova was well-trained to be a good memorizer. She knew dates and historical events, but she did not know why, how events happened, or how they connected "because critical thought was not valued," she said. 
"So, I make it very clear and very explicit to my students in my classrooms that critical thinking, and, critical thought, and questioning authority are some of the things that matter the most."
She writes her lessons using the standards that students are expected to know but teaches them in a way that allows the students to connect with the subject rather than reject it because there is a test coming up, she said. 
Chelukhova does not allow standardized tests to drive her pedagogy. She wants her students, who may have failed or felt unsuccessful in history previously, to find success in her space. 
"I reach out to them to try to make connections between their lives and the subject that we study. I want to make sure that they understand the relevance of history and the importance of history for their civic participation for being human beings, honestly," she said.
"And I try to find individual approaches, and the size of classes at BArT allows me to form individual connections with students." 
Chelukhova does more than just teach her students the curriculum; she teaches them how to examine the world they live in and gives them "the tools to the tools to interpret, understand, and discuss important topics," interim Executive Director Jonathan Igoe said. 
"Chelukhova is an exceptional history teacher and valued member of our community. She connects with her students, challenging them to grapple with difficult and sometimes contradictory ideas and concepts." 
In her Grade 11 history class, students consider their own perspective when delving into topics that have framed the modern world, he said.
"I think one of the big parts about what's so unique about her teaching is that she's not telling us things," junior Logan Hubbard said.
Chelukhova doesn't just give the students the information, she actively engages them in the material. 
"I'm still talking about the discussions that we've gone through, because she involves us so much in the discussions and lessons we go through," Hubbard said.
Her philosophy and civics instruction encourages students "to imagine different ways to organize society and how power and leadership impact organizational systems," Igoe said. "Chelukhova's classroom is centered around open discussion of ideas and respect for varying perspectives."
Every aspect of Chelukhova's teaching, from the discussions to the environment her classroom creates, influences the students. 
Multiple students commented on the comfortable atmosphere her her decor and lighting create. 
"She cares a lot about her students. So, whenever there is current news going on, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian war, she makes sure that there is time in class for us to discuss our feelings for it," junior Adrian Zustra said. 
"Her room itself … is meant to be inclusive and create a sense of belonging." 
As soon as students walk into the classroom, they are surrounded by diverse pieces of work from Black Lives Matter and LGBTQIA-plus flags to "photos of women and people of color to celebrate the history," Zustra said.
"... She is a very wholesome person. She cares so deeply about the things she teaches."
The students learn in low light, which helps remove the industrial feel of the harsh ceiling lights, Chelukhova said. 
"I think that learning and teaching are such personal experiences that I don't want them to think of school as a chore or the work they have to do," she said.
Even though this is her job and she gets paid, that is not why she does the work. 
"I come here to learn with them because I love it, and I hope that taking the institution out of the process will allow them to connect better with it because they feel safe here," Chelukhova said. 
She wants her students to connect with the space and said they bring diversity into the classroom.
"I want to have them see their diversity represented. I want to make sure that they feel a connection with the space, and I'm hoping that through my walls, through the books on the shelf, they find a mirror," she said.
She has heard many times, especially from Black and brown students, that they feel alone and underrepresented because they don't see a teacher who looks like them, Chelukhova said. 
"And I want to make sure that they have something that connects them to learning because I'm just another white teacher, white female teacher, for that matter, the majority of us who are in front of them, Chelukhova said.
"And I want to make sure that they feel like they belong in the process and they guide us. Not me."

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