Social studies teacher opens up on departure from Ankeny Schools

Social studies teacher leaves Ankeny Schools after 10 years amidst a national trend of teachers leaving the profession

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Sophie Rohlfing

Social studies teacher Nicholas Covington poses against the whiteboard in his classroom after writing down notes for his economics class. Covington said that it was tough to tell everyone he was leaving, but glad they all understood. “That was the hardest part I think, telling the students because there were audible gasps,” Covington said.

By Sophie Rohlfing, Ankeny High School

Nicholas Covington has worked at Ankeny High School as an Advanced Placement European History and economics teacher since 2012. In Feb. 2022 he announced his resignation from AHS to pursue his further role in the Human Restoration Project.

Covington is a graduate of AHS and works alongside some of his past mentors including fellow social studies teachers Greg Lage and Patrick Asmussen. When he first started thinking about interviewing at Ankeny, he contacted Asmussen who was happy to assist Covington with the start of his teaching career.

“He was a good asset for us, and he has a strong connection to kids,” Asmussen said.

Covington, Asmussen, and Covington’s wife, Kendra Wolver (brown hair and brown dress), along with two classmates at the 2003 Ankeny High School Crystal Ball. Asmussen said that he had Covington as a sophomore for World History and a junior for Sociology.
“Coming here felt like coming home (Ankeny High School), and to teach alongside some of the same teachers that taught me,” Covington said.
(Ankeny High School)

While some past and present students applaud his teaching style, he has received some backlash for it.

Covington has a different grading system which differs from Ankeny district expectations.

“I get frustrated by the ways that we use online grade books,” Covington said. “I’m frustrated by the ways that we haven’t been responsive to the needs post-pandemic.”

Along with his grading system, he also feels that his more student-centered teaching and learning philosophy is unappreciated by district administrators.

“The more that I grow as an educator, the more that puts me in tension with the way Ankeny does things,” Covington said.

However, some say that Covington’s style leaves them better prepared for the overarching AP exam. Within his classroom, he applies more knowledge with fewer tests and projects.

“He was a really great teacher and he made class lively and exciting,” junior Gabby Risk said. “I really liked how it wasn’t the typical structure, but I think it worked out for our benefit.”

Covington also relates events of European history back to current events happening in the United States.

“I think Covington was a great teacher and did a great job teaching history in a relevant way,” junior Aiden Orth said.

However, over the last two years, Covington has been receiving critical responses online about what some see as his controversial teaching approach.

“There have been multiple articles in the Iowa Standard, which is…like a far-right online blog,” Covington said.

This public commentary has interfered with Covington’s work as a teacher as the comments remark on him as a teacher and as a person by using his political views to describe his “teaching agenda.”

“I’m just trying to teach those difficult parts of history or acknowledge the spectrum of thought on topics like feminism or gender,” Covington said.

With all the reasons to leave, Covington felt like it was a simple decision.

“There are a lot of push and pull factors,” Covington said. “There are a lot of reasons for leaving that are good.”

Covington says one of the main reasons for his departure includes the lack of structure and systemic change within the district.

Students and staff members have expressed their feelings about his departure.

“He’s a really good people-person and really good at communicating with kids,” junior Lejla Ahmetovic said. “At that time everyone was going through a lot of stuff and he was just really open about it and he let people know that he had the same issues and we weren’t alone. It was just a really comforting feeling.”

Students highlight fun times in his class and how disappointed they are that he is leaving.

Covington with his wife Kendra Wolver get ready for the 2003 Ankeny High School Crystal Ball in Wolver’s parent’s home. Covington and his wife are high school sweethearts and have two children together. “I’m trying to focus less on the negative parts that caused me to leave, and am more focused on spending time with students with the time I have left, and wrap the semester up on a positive note,” Covington said. (Larry Covington)

“I feel it will be a little bit of a less enjoyable experience at Ankeny without him being here,” sophomore Hunter Boswell said.

Covington encouraged students to use their voices. At the Dec. 7, 2021 school board meeting in regards to the mask mandate end and the potential ban of LGBTQIA+-themed books, Covington spoke up in support of students who felt threatened by opposing members of the community for their positions. Continuing his advocacy for students, he supported those who participated in the walkout against House File 802 on April 14.

“I supported to the extent [of] moral support, letting people know what’s going on so they can participate if they wanted to,” Covington said.

The communications director for the Ankeny School District, Samantha Aukes, states that there has been an uptick in the amount of teachers leaving the district and the profession, which can also be seen as a nationwide trend.

“We’ve seen a higher number of people leaving the district this year than we did last year,” Aukes said.

Seventy-nine teachers are leaving the Ankeny Community School District, reports Axios. That is up from 50 teachers last year. Of the 79, 62 teachers are resigning.

Fifty-five percent of teachers plan on leaving earlier than they planned, mainly due to the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic there were 10.6 million, reports National Education Association.

Covington plans to continue his work for the Human Restoration Project and transition into a full-time position.

The Human Restoration Project is a non-profit organization that seeks student-centered classrooms for all. Currently, he serves as the Creative Director and has been working in that position since 2019 on a part-time basis. He says he is excited about this new beginning and to start full-time.

“I’m looking forward to a clean slate and a positive trajectory going forward,” Covington said.

Immediately following the conclusion of the 2021-2022 school year on June 1, Covington will start his new position where he will continue to work with schools across the nation and the world.

Although he will miss teaching, he said that he is excited about this new opportunity.

“It’s bittersweet in the way that home doesn’t feel like home anymore,” Covington said. “But I think also, it’s part of that growth and that reflective process too; I recognize that I’m different after two years of pandemic teaching and I’m at a different place than I was 10 years ago.”

Covington is one of many teachers across the country leaving the profession.

“Ankeny is in a different place than it was. It’s clear that we have diverged in our attitudes and values and those kinds of things,” Covington said. “I feel it’s an amicable separation.”

This story was originally published on The Talon on May 30, 2022.