DAR honors Lakeland teacher

Published 1:10 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

It’s a hard sell for a flapper to say she is a private person.

But that’s exactly what India Meissel will tell you.

The Lakeland High School history teacher is one of the most decorated faculty members working in today’s schools – both literally and figuratively.


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When Meissel found out she was going to be named the 2009-2010 Virginia Outstanding Teacher of American History by the Daughters of the American Revolution, she said her inner introvert roared within her.

“I knew three weeks ago,” she said of the award. “But I’m really not a public person. I didn’t tell anyone for three weeks.”

Flash forward one week from her interview, and the “not a public person” is leading a history class lecture about the Roaring Twenties dressed from head to toe as a flapper, complete with head band, elbow-length gloves and drooping necklaces.

A reserved, award-winning professional, yet an outgoing, extroverted educator?

It’s a dichotomy of roles that Meissel pulls off, according to local DAR members.

“For someone who is that talented and gifted of a teacher to be that modest is a very pleasant experience,” said Faye Sobel, vice regent for the Constantia chapter of the DAR. “She is such an outstanding person.”

Meissel was nominated for the state award by the Constantia chapter, and Sobel was a leading force in securing Meissel’s nomination.

“Her resume is extensive, it’s unbelievable, and her knowledge its so extensive,” she said. “But I also had heard about her throughout the community about how she just brought everything to life for the children, and I just thought she would be a wonderful person to recommend.”

And, for Meissel, if bringing history to life means dressing like a Prohibition-era woman who disdained the fashion and rules of the day, then so be it.

“If I can dress up like a flapper, then maybe it can draw up a lot of interest,” she said. “Maybe a kid will remember that.”

She called it both “overwhelming” and an “enormous responsibility” to be honored by the DAR.

“For me, it is an enormous responsibility,” she said. “It means supposedly in someone’s eye you’re standing above the rest. That’s a big deal.”

It’s a responsibility that many feel Meissel has more than upheld.

Among her many accomplishments include being the first recipient of the Mary V. Bicouvaris Award for Excellence in the Teaching of History, being named the Social Studies Teacher of the Year by the Virginia Council for Social Studies and receiving the Esther Goldman Award for Teaching Excellence given by the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

“I’m a student’s teacher,” she said, frankly. “If you can do something different to hook a kid in, then maybe that’s why everyone wants to bestow honors on me because I’m a little different.”

Yet, again, Meissel shot down any talk that her awards had anything to do with any unique teaching skills.

“Any member of this history department could be named to any of those awards at any given time,” she said. “We push each other to be better. I work with incredible people, not just in my department, but a lot of incredible people in this building that I’m pleased and honored to call my friends and colleagues.”

Meissel will be presented her award at a luncheon on March 21, during the Virginia DAR’s 113th Annual Congress.