Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Barbara Kraft, Oregon

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute 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 a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Barbara Kraft:

Barbara Kraft, Liberty High School
2017 Oregon History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
Toward the end of the year in 2016, the objective for the day was understanding the impact of the Iran-Contra scandal. The lesson I planned was derailed as students kept asking questions I had not anticipated. We ended up having an incredible, unplanned discussion. At the end, one student shouted out, “I learned more in the last 45 minutes than I ever have from Twitter!” After telling this story at lunch, a fellow teacher typed up the quote and hung it in my classroom over my desk. It is a good reminder that sometimes I make an impact, and when I do, it feels amazing!

What is the last great history book you read?
I just finished Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. It added to my understanding of the Space Race and offered me another perspective of American history. I highly recommended it to my students and others. I am impressed at how skillfully the author blended history, science and social issues. It also made me wonder what other untold history needs to be explored. History is perspective and more perspectives need to be added to further the rich complexities of this nation’s history.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
I grew up in Butte, Montana, which touts itself as “Montana’s Most Historic City.” There is a World Museum of Mining behind Montana Tech. Throughout my youth, we regularly visited the museum (as it was free!). It is 22 acres of buildings that are set up like a mining town. There are replications of a saloon, blacksmith, eye glass doctor and an old time grocery. There is also a school house with a swing in the back where I would play with my sisters. There was a Chinese laundry and a sauerkraut factory, both giving credit to the immigrants who settled and built the city. Finally, there was the Orphan Girl mine that we could explore and really see what it was like to be a miner in the early 20th century. These tours taught me to love history and to respect the people that have come to this country to make a living and contributed to the growth of our nation. This museum let me be a part of history as I walked down the streets and imagined what it would have been like to live in that time. It still stands today. My last visit was July 3, 2008 as I shared my childhood memories with my husband and son. I remember it well because men in dark suits were roaming the old-time streets and it was odd. I only understood why when I saw the broadcast the next day of Barack Obama at the World Museum of Mining during his first campaign!

What is your favorite historical film or series?
John Jakes’ North and South was extremely impactful on my love of history. I was in high school when the miniseries debuted on television. It hooked my interest in the Civil War and I wanted to know more. I clearly remember where the books were on the shelf in the library. I read all three books in the series, and then asked the librarian if there were more books like this. The librarian helped me find more historical fiction, which is still my favorite genre for pleasure reading today. These novels also made me want to know more and led me to read nonfiction books about history.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
I am very passionate about the Progressive Era. It includes women’s suffrage, advancement of Civil Rights and the national conversation about the role of government in citizens’ lives. My students read excerpts from Teddy Roosevelt, Alice Paul, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida Tarbell, Andrew Carnegie, Upton Sinclair, and several immigrant stories. It is an era that has accessible primary documents that offer multiple perspectives that lead to rich discussions with many connects to present day.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
My students seem to “turn on” when we get to the Civil Rights era. It is toward the end of the year, and students have fine-tuned their skills of academic reading and writing and are more confident in their abilities. In this unit students can focus more on the content. One of my favorite lessons is analyzing excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Drum Major Instinct” and Robert Kennedy’s “Speech on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.” Each year, student engagement is high, and they get goosebumps as we listen to King and Kennedy speak. At the end of the lesson, students reflect on the words spoken by these two men and make a statement about how they want to be remembered or what they want to make of our nation. Reading their reflections is inspiring. I hang them in the hallway and love when I see other students stop and read.

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