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Andy Beyer receives 2018 Oregon History Teacher of the Year Award from Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

PATRICK EVANS - Woodburn High School history teacher Andy Beyer was named the 2018 Oregon History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.Woodburn High School history teacher Andy Beyer may be a fan of "Jeopardy," but when it comes to teaching students, memorizing dates is a thing of the past.

"What's most important to me is that students are able to look at information with a critical eye," Beyer said.

Beyer's teaching focuses on getting students to think critically and draw connections, a focus on student learning that was recognized this year when he was named the 2018 Oregon History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

The award is given annually to one K-12 teacher from each state, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense schools and U.S. territories, to honor the contributions of history teachers and the importance of history education. An award for National History Teacher of the Year will be given to one teacher out of the pool in the fall.

The award brings a $1,000 honorarium, and the Woodburn High School library will receive a core archive of American history books and Gilder Lehrman educational materials. Beyer is also invited to a 2019 Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar, a program that holds teacher discussions with historians, visits historic sites and works hands on with primary sources. 

Beyer knew that he had been nominated for the award, but when he received an email that he had won he was taken by surprise.

"I was really shocked, it was weird," Beyer said.

Beyer is a Woodburn native, but said he never expected to move back after college. He graduated from Woodburn High School in 1997 and went on to receive his bachelor's degree in history from the University of Oregon and a master's degree in teaching from Western Oregon University.

Beyer started teaching at WHS in 2002, his first teaching job. He moved to Woodburn with his family in 2010 and his two sons, Kellen and Quinn, attend Woodburn schools. Beyer said that he had been interested in studying history since his own years as a student at WHS, especially when he took history with Woodburn teacher Walt Howell.

"It stuck with me, and in college I thought it might be something I would like to major in," Beyer said.

He initially double majored in math and history, but found that math wasn't very fun. History was.

As a teacher, Beyer tries to communicate his excitement about learning history to students.

"Student interest depends on how you go about it," Beyer said. "If I'm into it and excited about teaching then the students are excited about it too."

Beyer tries to make his lessons diverse, mixing primary sources like firsthand accounts of events with secondary sources likes documentaries or even the soundtrack from Broadway musical "Hamilton."

"We studied the American Revolution recently in IB (International Baccalaureate) class, I got to play some of the soundtrack from 'Hamilton'," Beyer said. "I think it keeps it relevant, and it's really cool. The students just go along like 'All right, Mr. Beyer!'"

Recently Beyer has taught Cold War history, the Arab-Israeli crisis, and World War I. He wrote his honors thesis on the Vietnam War. Beyer said that central to studying history is having a context for understanding current events.

"To understand where we're going, students need to know where we've been," he said. "They need look at all these different parts of history to wrap their heads around issues today."

Beyer said his biggest challenge as a history teacher was addressing the diverse needs of students, a challenge shared by teachers in general. He said it can be a struggle adapting his teaching to the different styles of learning that best suit individual students.

After 16 years, Beyer said the key to teaching is to enjoy working with students, even when it's a struggle.

"I've been teaching in Woodburn for 16 years and I really love it here," Beyer said. "I'm dedicated to living here and teaching the students."

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