Nancie Lindblom believes the study of American history can inspire positive civic action. On the walls of her classroom at Skyline High School in Mesa, Arizona, she has hung three simple exhortations: “Take a stand,” “Use your voice,” and “Make a difference.” Around each slogan she has grouped photos of American historical figures. “Not all of them are presidents,” she says. Many are humbler figures, people such as any of her students may aspire to become.
Named in November as Arizona’s Teacher of the Year, this teacher of AP US history and American government is a third-year student in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program. She decided to pursue her MA at Ashbrook because the program combined a teacher-friendly schedule with the content focus that would strengthen her knowledge base for the classroom.
The Arizona Education Foundation singled Nancie out from teachers across the K-12 spectrum of subject areas in the state. The process included a lengthy written application, an hour-long interview, and a visit to her classroom by a camera crew who not only recorded her teaching but also interviewed the students and administrators she works with.
A student who confessed to before having found history “dull and pointless” said Nancie’s “bright personality kept the whole class alert;” another called her teaching approach “infectious, making us all into history addicts and advocates.” Steve Green, Principal at Skyline High, praised Lindblom’s “amazing energy, professionalism and dedication to teaching.”
She has been engaged in this work for 17 years, ten of these at the high school level. When she began teaching, at Brimhall Junior High School in Mesa, she worried that she had contracted a serious illness, because she returned home each evening thoroughly exhausted. She soon realized that the teaching profession simply demands a maximal daily output of energy.
Accepting the award, Nancie agrees to serve during 2013 as a spokesperson for the teaching profession, meeting with professional, business, civic, educational, parent, and student groups throughout the state. As one of 52 state, District of Columbia, and US territory Teachers of the Year, she will attend national education conferences, meet with President Obama in the Oval Office, attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and be considered for the honor of National Teacher of the Year, a role that entails a year of full-time education advocacy. The National Teacher of the Year program—of which the Arizona Teacher of the Year program is a part—is the oldest and most prestigious American teacher recognition program. It is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C.
In her teaching, Nancie sees her immediate role as conveying the content knowledge of history while preparing the juniors and seniors in her AP history and government classes for college. But this preparation is also life-preparation: “I have to put rigor into the classroom, guiding students in analytical writing and critical thinking. They must form their own opinions and back these opinions up with facts and analysis. I hope to teach them problem-solving skills that will help them be successful in their lives.”
Nancie uses primary texts as much as possible in her history and government classes. Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program has helped a great deal with this. “Every class I have ever taken there has provided primary material for my teaching. We leave each course with a binder of primary sources. The program also sponsors a great website, TeachingAmericanHistory.org, with links to other documents.”
Nancie was interested in the MA program for several years before she enrolled in it. “I randomly audited a course on the Supreme Court and had a good experience, but I didn’t know how I could afford the program.” She considered an MA program at Arizona State University, but found it too focused on scholarly research. “I wanted a program that would help me as a teacher.” Through the TAH grant program she was able to travel to Ashland for a course on the progressive era, learning upon arrival that the grant would cover graduate credit. “I applied for the Madison Fellow program with my fingers crossed, and was selected in 2011.” While the Madison program covers tuition, room and board, “I cover the cost of travel to Ashland. To me it’s worth it. The program makes me a better teacher because of the resources it provides, the historical content knowledge I gain, and the community of teachers I tap into.”
Travelling about the country for on-site history study opportunities, Nancie meets Ashbrook MA teachers everywhere. “This past summer, at the James Madison Fellow program at Georgetown, probably a third of those participating were Ashbrook students. It is great to make connections with all these teachers. We use social networking to stay in touch, and when program acceptances go out, Ashbrook students are checking with each other to see who will be attending.”
Nancie’s students comment on the historical artifacts she brings into the classroom from her trips: her Teddie Roosevelt and Rosie the Riveter dolls, the finger puppets of Abraham Lincoln and his generals that she uses when recounting the president’s frustrating quest for a winning war strategy. Nancie herself talks about connecting with others who teach: a friend made at Ashbrook’s Presidential Academy with whom went sight-seeing in Boston at an Ashbrook-sponsored seminar on the Ratification of the Constitution; another whom she’ll see at a Lincoln conference in Springfield, Illinois.
“A friend in Arizona asked me, when I told her I was travelling to Ashland for a summer seminar, if I had arranged to room with a person I liked. ‘What if you get stuck with a person you can’t talk to?’ she wanted to know. I told her we do not have a problem with that in Ashbrook’s program! You know automatically that you all share the same passion for teaching history and for learning about the founding of American government.”