Jeanne Minnick, a second-grade teacher at Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac, believes students need to know their history.
“Learning about the past helps us to understand the present,” she said. “It also teaches us some of the reasons we have the government we have today and the roots for many of the conflicts around the world.”
Besides that, she added, it is just plain interesting and fun.
Minnick, of Darnestown, was named the 2013 Maryland Preserve America History Teacher of the Year. It’s an honor given annually by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a nonprofit organization that supports the study of American history, and Preserve America, a national initiative in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to encourage community efforts to share knowledge of U.S. history.
She said her students share her enjoyment of history because she makes the lessons interesting and interactive.
“As a second-grade teacher, you can’t stand up and lecture,” she said. “[The students] love history, so I tell them a story. They love to hear about the characters. They loved learning about Rome, Caesar, Mark Antony and Cleopatra.”
As a culmination activity for that lesson, she said, the students put on a play, allowing them to become the characters they had just studied.
Minnick believes lessons need to be hands on.
“For example, we studied the War of 1812 and the USS Constitution,” she said. “We made little boats and they sailed them in a pool of water. It’s the same with all subjects, being hands on, like science.”
As a second-grade teacher, Minnick teaches her students a variety of subjects and her history lessons include American history and world history.
“In first grade, they study the revolution and in second, we pick up with the Constitution and James Madison and go to the War of 1812. In world history, second-graders study ancient Greece and ancient Rome,” she said. “They work their way up through the grades.”
Minnick said one of her favorite historical characters is Andrew Jackson, though she admitted he was not such a nice guy.
“He was the first common man to be elected president. He was just one of the people and had been a hero of the War of 1812,” she said. “He was responsible for the Trail of Tears [the relocation of Native Americans from the American Southeast to present-day eastern Oklahoma]. He hated Indians.”
Minnick received $1,000 as the Maryland recipient of the teacher of the year award and Fourth Presbyterian School’s library received a number of history books and educational materials.
She is in the running for the national Preserve America History Teacher of the Year Award, which will be presented in the fall. She will compete against teachers from each of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Department of Defense schools and the U.S. territories.
“Its a strenuous vetting process,” said Donna Olszewski, Maryland coordinator of the competition.
“Teachers need to show a demonstrated commitment to teaching American history,” she said. “[Minnick] has received numerous other awards for American history in the classroom. She uses creativity and imagination and she was able to integrate language arts and art into her lessons.”
She also uses primary source documents in her lessons, Olszewski said.
“Something as simple as a photograph,” she said. “She will ask a question and, through primary source documents, have students answer it.”
Minnick said she likes many things about teaching.
“I like sharing with the kids and seeing them get it. They are like little sponges and they want to learn,” she said. “I love being with the kids and sharing information. There is so much they need to know. That’s a challenge for teachers, to keep kids current and know what they need in their world.”