Penn State alumna wins history teacher award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—For Lori McGarry to look to the future, she has to look to the past.

McGarry is Pennsylvania’s most recent winner of the National History Teacher of the Year award. Each year she begins by asking her students to think about how they ended up in a public classroom in central Pennsylvania in the 21st century.

The award, co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, requires a creativity and enthusiasm for teaching, which McGarry displays in her classroom every day.

Her teaching style is unique as she takes a hands-on approach when it comes to the classroom, treating history as the collective stories of individual people.

“We frequently put ourselves ‘in their shoes’ through historical simulations, and we extensively use primary sources — from diary entries to immigration records — to connect us to the individuals who experienced our history as their present,” McGarry said.

Some of the historical simulations in her classroom include life in the early American colonies, and developing rules and norms on newly settled land.

A Penn State alumna and fifth-grade teacher at Park Forest Elementary, McGarry has presented at national conferences and has published articles in national journals, such as Social Studies and the Young Learner.

As a winner of the award, McGarry received a $1,000 award and an archive of books and historical resources presented in her name to her school library. She will also be able to attend a Gilder Lehrman Institute summer seminar.

The year prior to her winning, she attended the seminar The American Environment in Historical Perspective. In that seminar she looked at history through an environmental lens: involving reading, field trips, discussions and essentially making the teacher the student once again. McGarry said the experience was invaluable to her teaching and is currently applying for the summer seminar she will attend as an award winner.

McGarry also identifies her time at Penn State as invaluable in her development as a teacher. As a student, she was part of the Professional Development School (PDS), which she still considers as an “integral part of her teaching experience.”

The PDS is a collaborative program within the College of Education that has students of the college and teachers in local schools working together as the Penn State students prepare for a career in teaching. The experience prepared her for the challenges of a career in education, immersing her in the classroom experience. Through the PDS, McGarry said she learned that teaching is both an “art and a science.”

“I was surrounded by outstanding teachers who allowed me to soak in their knowledge, expertise and feedback," said McGarry. "From these educators, I learned the importance of discovering each child as an individual learner and creating a classroom environment responsive to individual needs.”

Her time with the PDS eventually led to a career teaching at the same place that she interned, where she taught first- and second-grade multiage before moving on to fifth grade.

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Last Updated March 05, 2014