Des Moines teacher named Iowa History Teacher of the Year
A 15-year teaching veteran in the Des Moines Public Schools has been named the Iowa History Teacher of the Year.
Amber Davison, 43, who has taught at Des Moines’ Hoover High School since she joined the profession, received the award 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.
Here, Davison gives her views on the importance of history in the classroom – and society.
What spurred your interest in history, and when did you decide to become a history teacher?
I had a phenomenal government teacher Mr. Bomgaars in my senior year and further spurred by a western civilization class while I was getting my undergrad. The research and variety of sources were exciting.
How would you define "social studies," and why is studying it so important?
Social studies is looking at human choice and activity using techniques to research, study and learn from these decisions. As a discipline, it rewards curiosity and critical thinking.
Social studies provide a moral compass and the skills for students to act on their conscience.
How do you engage your students and make history come alive in your classroom? Why is engaging students important?
One way I try to engage students is digging into the 9-12 inquiry standards. These standards allow students to dig into compelling and supporting questions and engage with a variety of sources. You need to pique students’ curiosity through current events and how past events have influenced our current situation as well as allowing them to choose. Students also need to see themselves in your course. Because Hoover High School is one of the most diverse schools in the state, it is imperative we use sources from multiple perspectives. Luckily, there are more and more resources available to teachers to support this work. For example, the University of Iowa and Iowa State have some amazing resources that are free to use. Beyond Iowa sources, Facing History and C3 teachers are fantastic resources that are free. There are so many paths for inquiry, allowing students to do this is crucial. From here there are so many great strategies that you can employ such as Structured Academic Controversies, Socratic Smackdowns or the Question Formulation Technique that can help students develop skills that allow them to truly do social studies.
How do you emphasize state and local history in your classroom?
We consistently use resources from the Iowa Historical Museum’s text sets that highlights Iowa history, putting it into a broader context. We try to always start and embed state and local history to both ground students in something that is familiar and pique their interest.
What would you like to tell teachers across Iowa?
Working with a quality professional learning community and having educators focused on supporting students to meet their potential is the only way to continue in and thrive in this profession. I’m so grateful to work with Jeremy Avery, Jeanette Carrington, Christian Davison and Madeline Wagner on a daily basis at Hoover High School. Building communities outside of your school is equally important, take advantage of any opportunities you can to collaborate with teachers in your building and outside. I’m grateful for the fantastic coaching I’ve received from Ann Mincks and BJ VanVleet. Find mentors and coaches no matter how long you have been teaching – it has never been more important in this profession.