America's Best History Teachers
December 24, 2020
Here’s new evidence that Ashbrook’s teacher programs are helping to mold some of the nation’s best educators: teachers in Ashbrook programs are winning state-wide awards.
Stacy Moses of Sandia Preparatory School in New Mexico and Kelly Eddy of Churchill High School in Michigan were named History Teacher of the Year for their states by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Each was selected from among social studies teachers in grades 7 through 12 statewide.
Nancie Lindblom of Skyline High School won the award for Teacher of the Year for Arizona. She was chosen from applicants in all subject areas and at all grade levels within her state.
What makes a great social studies teacher? According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the best teachers will effectively use original “documents, artifacts, historic sites, oral histories, and other primary resources to engage students with American history.” Primary sources are the focus of the Masters program of the Ashbrook Center. We believe that to understand the achievements of American statesmen, students must read what those historical figures themselves said about the challenges they faced. Only then can students understand the choices citizens of a new and growing democracy made to ensure its survival.
“Every class I have ever taken” in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program “has provided primary material for my teaching,” Lindblom says. “We leave each course with a binder of primary sources. The program also sponsors a great website, TeachingAmericanHistory.org, with links to other documents.”
Great teachers use “creativity and imagination,” the Gilder Lehrman Institute says. Eddy asks her students to reenact the Federalist-Antifederalist debate, this time using not the printed press (as the Founders did at the time our Constitution was being debated) but Facebook pages. Lindblom sets up history “quiz-show”-styled competitions in which her students compete against those of another high school. Moses’ students use primary documents to explore historical puzzles, such as what actually happened in the Gulf of Tonkin to prompt the resolution authorizing Johnson to send troops to Vietnam.
According the Arizona Education Foundation, an outstanding teacher will “have a superior ability to help all students achieve.” A student in Lindblom’s AP US History class who scored top marks on the AP exam said “Ms. Lindblom made 400 years of history seem like headline news.” Teachers who leave the safe confines of the textbook and challenge their students to read and analyze original documents are asking students to think harder about history, to form the kinds of questions they can later apply to the news accounts of their own times and the speeches of their current leaders.
Great history teachers help students grasp the ongoing challenges of political life, such as why compromise may be necessary—a theme Moses emphasizes—or how the energy of central government can be counterpoised by local decision-making and the exercise of personal rights. They may even inspire students to take an active role in shaping the history of their own time. Students who’ve studied with Lindblom remember the photos of historical figures on the walls of her classroom, grouped around signs urging them to “Take a stand,” “Use your voice,” and “Make a difference.” They come back to tell her they are pursuing goals they set while researching current events in her class. Moses tells of a student now working for a Representative in Congress who “wrote me a letter saying, ‘It is because of you that I am here.’ This makes all my effort worthwhile.” Such stories give the Ashbrook program confidence that the teacher programs we offer are helping to educate a new generation of American leaders.