JHS teacher nominated for national Teacher of the Year award

IMG 3784JOHNSTON, Ia. (April 14, 2022) — Johnston High School teacher Sue Cline is this year’s Iowa nominee for the National History Day’s Teacher of the Year award. The award is sponsored by Patricia Behring in recognition of the pivotal role teachers play in the lives of students.

“This award recognizes the very best educators from across the nation and beyond,” said Dr. Cathy Gorn, the executive director of National History Day. “These educators are leaders and innovators in the teaching of history, and we are all the more impressed because of the extended difficult teaching circumstances due to the pandemic during the last year. I wish to congratulate Ms. Cline on her well-deserved nomination.”

Cline has been teaching in Johnston for 32 years and has taught history for most of that time. She’s been the Extended Learning Program (ELP) teacher for 22 years and also an adviser and sponsor for Academic Decathalon, National History Day and Mock Trial.

“It’s trying to encourage students to learn about how to do deep research and then make a historical argument,” Cline explained. “The process involves the students finding an event or person or situation that intrigues them, and then they have to dig into it to be able to talk about more than one perspective, the historical context it took place in and what kind of impact it had on the world. The research skills they learn are just insane. Their ability to then understand the importance of what might appear to be a fairly minor event in time, it’s an amazing program.”

Making history engaging

Cline said she enjoys the social and cultural aspects of history — what everyday people, and especially marginalized populations, were like in that era. But she hated history until she got into college and had a professor who piqued her interest in it. She said a good history teacher helps make the content engaging — exposing them to a part of it that would make it interesting for them.

IMG 3783“So many students hate history, I think partly because they haven’t gotten exposed to the part of it that would really get them engaged,” she said. “History Day does that for some kids. A student who has family background from a region automatically has an entry point to find the history fascinating. A student who is very religious would probably find a study of religions the way to enter a study of history. So it has something for everybody if the curriculum and the situation allows for that. If a kid has an entry point to something they’re passionate about, it gives them a chance to chase it. So that is my primary task.”

Cline modestly credits her students for allowing her to be nominated for the National History Day’s Teacher of the Year award. Five of her students — Anita Dinakar, Eshaan Chandani, Anjali Kumar, Akshara Eswar and Rohan Devadas — qualified for the state contest this year, to be held April 25 at the Iowa Events Center. Several of her students generally qualify for the national competition each year.

“The primary reason I got to stand out is because I have students competing in the National History Day contest that are just outstanding,” Cline said. “National competitors every year. When you have wonderful students, the whole program is strong.”

National winner announced in June

Since 1994, the National History Day in Iowa program has been coordinated by the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The year-long academic program encourages middle- and high-school students to conduct original research on historical topics. Students enter their projects at local and state contests, with top students advancing to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Each of the 58 National History Day affiliates may nominate exceptional educators. All nominees will receive $500. The national winner will receive a $10,000 award for demonstrating a commitment to engaging students in historical learning through the innovative use of primary sources, implementation of active learning strategies to foster historical thinking skills, and participation in the National History Day Contest.

The national winner will be selected by a committee of experienced teachers and historians, and announced on Saturday, June 18 at the National History Day National Contest Awards Ceremony, which will be held virtually this year due to COVID-19. Nominees’ work must clearly illustrate the development and use of creative teaching methods that engage students in history, and help them make exciting discoveries about the past.