By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Within the first week of student-teaching at Rockvale Middle School, Brittany Taylor had fallen in love.
She had intended to become an elementary school teacher, but once she was exposed to the middle school environment, she felt a connection she had not experienced before.
That was 2012.
Eight years later, Taylor has been named the Gilder-Lehrman 2020 History Teacher of the Year for Tennessee.
“I couldn’t believe that I had won,” said Taylor, who has been teaching eighth-grade U.S. history at Rockvale since fall 2013. “There’s a lot of excellent teachers that I work with, so I felt very honored.”
Taylor was selected from a panel of teachers, administrators and scholars from Tennessee, according to an email from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History informing her that she was being selected for her achievements in American history education.
She will receive a $1,000 award, a core archive of books and historical resources, a certificate of recognition, an invitation to attend a 2021 Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar and recognition at a ceremony here in Tennessee.
Taylor was preparing her classroom when she received the email.
“I was putting all my desks where they belong,” said Taylor, who was nominated for the distinction by last year’s state winner Dustin Brannon, now an assistant principal at Rocky Fork Middle School.
Taylor said the realization of her selection has not sunk in yet.
She is now one of 53 finalists for the $10,000 National History Teacher of the Year Award.
In the coming weeks, 10 finalists will be announced and then a winner of the national competition will be announced in early fall.
Gilder Lehrman — founded in 1994 — is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to K-12 American history education. They began honoring history teachers in 2004.
Taylor, whose mother is a seventh-grade science teacher in nearby Wilson County, grew up in Mt. Juliet. She came to Murfreesboro to study elementary education at Middle Tennessee State University and never left Rutherford County once she started student-teaching at Rockvale.
“That’s when I knew this is the place I belong,” said Taylor, who combined her passion for middle schooler with her interest in U.S. history. “It was always my favorite subject in school. I was always interested in: why did things happen the way they did?”
Her lessons investigate historical events.
Not only are they engaging—for instance, students simulate the Constitutional Convention—but they are formulated to challenge her classes to analyze historical facts and ideas.
“Whether students are acting out the Constitutional Convention realizing why compromise was desperately needed,” Taylor wrote in “teaching philosophy” document, “analyzing arguments in the Lincoln-Douglas debates while I am wearing a top hat and beard, or reading about the Civil War battles through soldier’s journals, students are growing and learning how complex and exciting history can be. Ultimately students leave my classroom not only with confidence in the skills taught, but with knowledge of their role in the history they are creating today in the school, community and world.
“My students learn in my class that they matter.”