Each year the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History honors one teacher from every state as the “History Teacher of the Year.” In doing so, it celebrates America’s unsung heroes: our social studies teachers. These teachers work in the shadows behind those who teach STEM subjects and English language arts, building the next generation’s understanding of self-government. They not only teach how constitutional self-government works now and has worked in the past. They help students understand the moral and political purposes our constitutional system is meant to serve. This year, we are proud to announce that seven of the state winners of these awards are veterans of TAH programs.
Three of them—Mike Bisenius of North Dakota, Pamela Cummings of Arkansas, and Marilyn Orseno of Ohio—are graduates of our Master of Arts in American History and Government program. One, Carrie Huber of South Dakota, recently began studying in that program. Two teachers, Justin Glodowski of Wisconsin and Angel Ledbetter of North Carolina, graduated from the Master of Arts with a Specialization in Teaching American History and Government program, an all-online option that combines seminars taught through MAHG with seminars in pedagogy offered by the Ashland Education department. One teacher, Ethan Brownell of Maine, participated in a TAH multiday program on the American Founding.
TAH Helps Teachers Excel
All these teaches spoke with TAH about their teaching approaches and about the ways that TAH programs have made them more effective. Each teacher works in a unique situation, making American history intelligible to students in a particular locality and social setting. You can read their stories by clicking on the above hyperlinks in their names.
America’s unsung heroes are always learning more about history and government. They credited TAH with deepening their knowledge. “Anytime I can be a student, without paying thousands of dollars for it, I’m doing it,” said Brownell, remembering the free multiday seminar he attended in Northampton, Massachusetts. “It was great, sitting together with other teachers, asking questions about the primary documents and bouncing ideas off each other.” Cummings said the MAHG program met a teacher’s greatest need: to understand her content area so as to teach it more clearly, deeply, and accurately. “I recommend the TAH Masters program to all the teachers I know,” said Justin Glowdowski, who is the recent past president of the Wisconsin Council of Social Studies, which networks with teachers throughout the state.
To be considered for the prestigious award, a teacher must be nominated by an appreciative colleague. Then the teacher completes an application package that includes a lesson or unit plan demonstrating a thoughtful, creative approach to history education, along with student work demonstrating the effectiveness of the approach. Applicants must also provide a letter of recommendation from a supervisor and a statement of their own teaching philosophy and goals.
Great Teachers Help Students Excel
What does the award mean to these winners? To Cummings, now in her 17th year of teaching, ““It means that there is recognition that I do work hard, and that it matters to my students.” To Angel Ledbetter, the award is a sign that “I am right where I need to be, using my geeky passion in history” to educate young citizens. “I’m the luckiest person in the world, because I get to go to school and talk about history with teenagers all day long. Sometimes I’m asked, ‘Don’t you ever get bored with covering the same stuff?’ No! Every conversation is different. Every day is different. Getting this award says that I’m doing this in a way that is truly engaging to kids and is making a difference.”
Justin Glodowski commented on the oddity of winning the award so early in his career (this is his 13th year teaching social studies). “It feels like the type of award you receive at the end of your career. I feel very much that I’m near the beginning, and I want to keep getting better. The award affirms that the strategies I’m using are helping students, and that my colleagues see it.”
Marilyn Orseno not only won the History Teacher of the Year award for Ohio; she placed on the list of ten finalists for the National History Teacher of the Year award. Her students saw the news online and exclaimed, “Ms. Orseno, you’re ranked!” She laughed at the athletic analogy. Everyone can do great things, she tells her students. “In American history, we learn about flawed human beings who did some extraordinary things. Great as the founders’ accomplishments were, they weren’t the peak of human achievement. You can do extraordinary things in your own lives.” To America’s unsung heroes, it’s all about the students.