The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

History teacher Bonnie Belshe wins national history teacher award

History teacher Bonnie Belshe wins national history teacher award

It was on the Normandy D-Day beaches, staring up at the cliffs, where eight-year-old Bonnie Belshe recognized her passion for history.

“I remember looking at the rock cliffs that were burial sites for many soldiers who died at Normandy,” Belshe said.

Belshe spent her entire third grade in England because of her father’s sabbatical. In those short 12 months, her family took the opportunity to explore every inch of Europe, including many prominent historical and cultural sites.

At Normandy there were numerous museums dedicated to D-Day. One museum in particular offered exploration of the momentous occasion by putting together primary kits, or toolboxes, for students, that included Allied secret maps and letters from General Eisenhower. For Belshe, something about this exploration clicked and sparked her curiosity.

“I absolutely loved it, how the pieces of history fit together. I was standing on the beaches,” Belshe said, “Realizing, this was where history had taken place.”

It is because of her passion and dedication to teaching that Belshe was recognized as the California State History Teacher of the Year, an award which is sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. An organization dedicated to promote the study and love of American history, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognizes one high school American history teacher from each state with the award.

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Unique Teaching Philosophy

Part of what has contributed to Belshe’s success as a history teacher is her immersion based approach to teaching history.

For Belshe, it is important that students become historians, producing their own historical arguments and interpreting authentic documents, gathering primary sources and looking through each piece of information through the lens of that era.

“Primary sources are a basis for history, and to find out where the historian fits into the story is what I want my students to understand,” Belshe said.

This belief in students crafting their own historical interpretations and arguments is the basis for the Oral History project, where students create primary history themselves. Ultimately, the purpose of the project is for students to ask the central question, “What do historians really do?” Students’ original research is important according to Belshe, because they retain and learn the information better and create memories around it, all the while creating historical arguments by themselves.

As for her teaching philosophy, Belshe makes sure that every student has access to the tools they need to become historians. By analyzing what primary sources say, students come out of class with the ability to look at contemporary issues through a critical lens.

“She focused on synthesizing all our information together, so it’s easier for me to connect different aspects of history,” said senior Tanaya Sawant, who was in Belshe’s US History class last year.

Often attending history and learning development programs during summer, Belshe believes that the best thing about teaching is that it is continuous, never stagnant. Each year is something new: teaching, like history, is constantly being revised.

“Teaching and history are a perfect match,” Belshe said.

Her inspiration

For Belshe, teaching runs in the family. Belshe’s mother was a teacher, and both her grandparents were professors. However, growing up, Belshe rarely considered teaching as a career goal.

“My mother always told me, ‘Oh, you’d be a great teacher. At that time, I ignored my mom’s words, responding with an eyeroll,” Belshe said. “But now I look back and think, ‘Mom, you were right.’ Teaching was for me. It was always in the back of my mind.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she moved to San Francisco, and spent six weeks working in the corporate world. The environment and atmosphere were clearly not the right fit and Belshe decided to attend to the University of San Francisco to obtain her teaching credentials and a masters degree in education, with an emphasis on high school education.

Belshe decided to focus on high school education because she was excited to share with high school students some of the things she found most enjoyable in her own high school academic experience. She credits her high school history teacher Peter Shandorff, with encouraging her to pursue history in greater depth.

After teaching for a few years, Belshe returned to school, obtaining a masters degree in American History from San Jose State University, where she was influenced by several of her professors. Inspired by their knowledge and teaching styles, Belshe aspired to incorporate bits and pieces of her professors’ teaching styles into to her own instructional method and hopes the learning and inspiration continues on to her own students.

Process of winning the award

Former MVHS Class of 2013 alumnus Emily Batsford nominated Belshe for the award.

Upon receiving word of the nomination, Belshe sent in supporting materials. This included a lesson plan, which she created about the civil rights movement, a long term project, which Belshe submitted the oral history project, several student samples from the project and a letter of recommendation from Principal April Scott.

“I think the nomination itself is an honor,” Belshe said, smiling. “To know that you’ve affected a student in some way.”

After a three month deliberation period, she received the award. The Gilder Lehrman Award is reflective of the palpable impact Belshe has made on her students.

“Belshe really helped me improve my presentation skills because she focused on helping us delivering the information we learned in her class in a clear and concise manner,” Sawant said.

Current AP US History junior Eric Lee echoes Sawant’s sentiments.

“She’s passionate about the history she teaches,” said junior Eric Lee. “She is able to give students room to work and achieve on their own.”

A shift in mindset

Students are often locked in the “dusty history book” mindset, which Belshe tries to pull them out of. Often thinking that history will simply be an inundation of dates, names, and events, some students are unwilling to fully engage themselves.

“Some are still stuck in an old mindset of history; history’s only ‘from a textbook,’ history just feels dead,” Belshe explains. “They’re not getting stories of the people behind history, of the tremendous change that has molded our society today,” Belshe said. “They need to see how much I love it.”

To those who dismiss history as a lesser subject than the math and sciences, Belshe says they don’t know their history.

“History is all of our stories together, how we work collectively as a culture, as a people,” Belshe said. “We see people fighting against things that need change, and a new generation emerging with those rights.”

When Belshe speaks about history, the passion radiates from her. Her whole body is engaged, and a smile spreads across her entire face, especially when she talks about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, her favorite era of American history.

“When you have a teacher that is excited, you pick up on the enthusiasm,” Belshe said.

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