Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Caroline Young, Minnesota

This year, Gilder Lehrman recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature one state winner every Tuesday and Thursday between now and September, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Caroline Young:

Caroline Young, Rockford High School
2017 Minnesota State History Teacher of the Year

What is the last great history book you read?
I could do a whole booklist here. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides, The Black Count by Tom Reiss, Appetite for America by Stephen Fried, and The Great Silence by Juliet Nicolson stand out from the last few summers.

I’m teaching Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand this year. I had a few kids pilot it last year, and I was impressed with the connection they made with Louis Zamperini. Hillenbrand’s telling made the past more relevant for my readers. The kids tend to see wars as fought by their grandpas and uncles, not really seeing or understanding that during the war, these men, in their late teens and twenties, were basically their own age with very similar lives. Establishing that relevance can be the hardest (and most important) lesson.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
When I was young, my parents took my brothers and me on these wonderful road trips that I have since come to see as essential to my education and even my own identity. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, is one of the museums that I visited as a kid that set me up to love the past—exciting and fantastic and romantic. And as an adult I see that lovely complication of theatricality in some of its collections.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
Get into a classroom. Set up an observation schedule with your mom’s friend who teaches 4th grade or your aunt the librarian. If you find yourself helping, participating, volunteering, these are pretty good signs. There are many schools and programs needing volunteers, and indeed some education programs require those volunteer experiences for admission.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
In Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, the boys and their telephone booth time machine bring Abe Lincoln, Socrates, Joan of Arc, and others to the present so Bill and Ted can pass history, graduate, and become the leaders of the free world. I’ve graduated high school and have no aspirations to lead the free world, so I’d be more personally reflective. I’d take my phone booth to my great-grandmother’s hometown in Poland at the turn of the 1900s. I’d like to know what she left behind when she made her way to Minneapolis as a teenager. I’d like to have that context for my own history.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
I am a tremendous fan of PBS’s American Experience. It’s a running joke in my honors class that I will recommend on a regular basis that they supplement their coursework with this or that segment of this or that episode. They give me odd looks when I tell them “Tupperware!” is great for a glimpse of the consumerism, gender roles, and politics of the 1950s. I use all of “The Civilian Conservation Corps” in all of my US history classes. That film is structured around the testimony of five men who served in the CCC. My students grew up hiking, hunting, fishing, and camping in the parks and on the trails the CCC was responsible for—it gives their own experiences more context.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
I love almost all of it and actively work to make the stuff I like less more interesting to keep the kids engaged.

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