Iowa’s History Teacher of the Year named
A teacher from the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District has been named Iowa’s History Teacher of the Year.
Kelly Steffen is a 19-year teaching veteran at the Vinton-Shellsburg district, spending the last 18 years teaching American history at Vinton-Shellsburg High School. Steffen ensures student engagement by focusing on the relevance presented in historical context.
"I have a special appreciation for teachers who go beyond rote memorization of dates and names,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise, himself a former social studies teacher. “Kelly makes history come alive by making the subject relevant and engaging. She is a leader in this field.”
“Finding relevance is one way I work to engage students,” Steffen said. “Another is to utilize primary sources, so that students can draw their own conclusions."
Steffen’s award is through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, following a recommendation from an Iowa Department of Education committee.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute promotes and celebrates accomplishments in American history education and scholarship, and every year honors one exemplary, elementary, middle, or high school history teacher from all 50 states, Department of Defense schools, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories. State winners receive a $1,000 prize, an archive of classroom resources, and recognition at a ceremony in their state, and are considered for the National History Teacher of the Year award.
Why did you become a history teacher?
As an elementary school student, I had a love for all things history. I checked out and read any books connected to history, especially presidential history. The librarian was kind enough to order new books for me once I was done with a certain era. As I moved on to high school, I had a wonderful history teacher at Cedar Rapids’ Jefferson, Jim Taylor, whose love for history and our ability to analyze and question it made me realize this was something I wanted to be a part of.
How would you define "social studies," and why is studying it so important?
The disciplines that make up "social studies" teach us how to understand ourselves, how to understand those around us, how to understand our past, and how utilizing this information can help us become educated, contributing members of society. We study social studies, so that we may be well-informed, contributing members of society.
How do you engage your students and make history come alive in your classroom? Why is engaging students important?
Finding relevance is one way I work to engage students. Another is to utilize primary sources, so that students can draw their own conclusions. I hope that my passion is what they feel when we approach topics in class. I have an administration that allows field trips locally and nationally. I promote opportunities that allow students to interact with the public, like hosting a Cold War Museum and inviting community members and administration to observe student work. Engaging students is necessary in order to help build a community of contributing members of society.
How do you emphasize state and local history in your classroom?
This is an area that I am looking to improve and the new social studies standards and resources have been helpful with making that more of a reality. I do invite local veterans to speak about their experiences with 20th century conflicts or other local experts regarding religion or historical events. I also have students visit our local history and Veterans Museum.
What would you like to tell teachers across Iowa?
WE ALL work really hard to ensure the best learning opportunities for our students. I feel honored to be surrounded by people who love what they do and inspire the next generation.