Boland brings history to life

Trumbull High’s Katie Boland is Connecticut’s 2017 History Teacher of the Year.
Trumbull High’s Katie Boland is Connecticut’s 2017 History Teacher of the Year.

History doesn’t have to be a litany of lectures about long-dead figures. Good history teachers can make the subject come alive, and there aren’t any better at it than Trumbull High’s Katie Boland.

Boland was recently named the 2017 Connecticut History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to K-12 American history education.

Boland said she tries not to be the kind of history teacher she remembers from her school days.

“The key is to make it interesting and interactive,” she said. “I try not to do straight lectures, like what I grew up with.”

For example, students in Boland’s class wrote and delivered eulogies for a Founding Father (or mother) of their choice, then delivered it to the class. Another class argued the Supreme Court’s  United States v. Texas 2016 decision, with students arguing each side, and another group of students listening to arguments and rendering a decision.

“Things like that bring it alive to them,” Boland said. “They really gain an appreciation of the people who shaped the country.”

Boland herself feels a sort of kinship with the founders, she said.

“There is a story that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was simple and direct: ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’ It is my job and my duty as a social studies teacher to meet Dr. Franklin’s challenge with each future citizen.”

Meeting Franklin’s challenge means constantly evolving as a teacher, Boland said.

“One of the things I love about teaching is always learning myself,” she said. “By continually pushing myself to learn that helps me immensely.

Boland was nominated for History Teacher of the Year by Marilyn Cummings, a fellow history teacher at Milford’s Lauralton Hall. The application process included interviews and a personal statement on the importance of history. As the History Teacher of the Year Boland receives a $1,000 honorarium, plus a core archive of American history books and Gilder Lehrman educational materials for the Trumbull High library. She will also receive an invitation to a 2018 Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar, a weeklong program that offers teachers daily discussions with eminent historians, visits to historic sites, and hands-on work with primary sources.

Pop quiz

As a teacher, Boland is used to giving quizzes, but agreed to participate in an impromptu history quiz with the Trumbull Times.

Favorite amendment? — “I’m a woman, so the 19th, definitely. Of course the First Amendment is crucially important, and the 14th [equal protection under law] is vital, but the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, so I’ll go with that.”

Better president, Washington or Lincoln? — “I love Washington, I have to go with him. He set the example. My students bought me a life-sized cardboard cutout of Washington for my classroom.”

Favorite historic movie — “Saving Private Ryan. Tom Hanks is phenomenal. Schindler’s List is great too, but Private Ryan is one of those movies that I have to watch if it’s on.”

Favorite Founding Father — “Alexander Hamilton. I was so happy when the musical came out. It gave new life to him. His partnership with Washington was one of the most unsung relationships of the time, and his life is always this great ‘What if ...’ stories because of his duel with [Aaron] Burr.

Most underrated president — “Lyndon Johnson. Becoming president after JFK, he doesn’t really get the recognition for the things he did, like the Great Society, which reshaped the country.”