By Mike Marsee
Tim Peterson wants his students to get to know the people they are studying.
The most significant and recognizable names in history are discussed in Peterson’s classes at Taylor County High School, and he said it’s important for his students to realize that those people are just like them.
“History is all about the human experience,” Peterson said. “Their experiences that they go through are exactly the same as people throughout all times of history, whether it’s a family issue, domestic problems, trying to create a career. What they internalize is what every person internalizes.
“It’s not just a name in a book. I try to take it down to their level.”
Peterson’s efforts to make his students better citizens of the world were recognized earlier this summer when he received the inaugural Earle C. Clements Innovation in Education Award for Civics and History Teachers from the National Archives and the University of Kentucky Libraries Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center.
“It’s nothing that I did all of a sudden,” Peterson said.
Indeed, Peterson has been trying to teach in innovative ways throughout his 26 years in the classroom. These days, that means not only a greater use of technology, but also more project-based learning and group activities, as well as more education taking place outside the classroom.
It also means a greater emphasis on global competency and helping students understand where they fit into the big picture.
“We do so much writing in our classes, and it all talks about the global context. It’s a very, very competitive world they’re going into, and they’ve got their own unique issues that we didn’t have growing up,” he said.
Peterson is teaching United States history, European history, world history and human geography courses this year, and four of his five classes are advanced placement classes. He said in-depth discussions are more common in his classes than ever before, and so are chances to get out into the world through field trips.
“We try to open up as many avenues as possible for kids,” he said. “We’ve got 40 to 50 students who are going to go to Europe on a group trip. They’re wanting to go out and experience the world and all it has to offer.
“It’s a world-changer, it really is. Once they can see outside their little bubble, I think they really take their lives a little more seriously and their perception is a whole lot different than before. It gives them bigger dreams, more possibilities than they were exposed to before. They may go to college and study abroad or do things they didn’t even think of before.”
Known to his students as “Coach P,” Peterson is in his sixth year at Taylor County High, where he is the girls’ basketball coach. He also has taught in Marion and Jessamine counties.
Peterson said he has enjoyed numerous cultural experiences through teaching and coaching, and one of the most recent came with the Clements award. Bess Clements Abell, the daughter of the award’s namesake, was in Lexington for the July 8 presentation ceremony. Peterson got to join her for dinner and was invited to visit her at her home outside Washington this month.
“It’s been a great experience,” Peterson said. “It’s grown into more than what I ever thought it would become.”
The Clements award honors the life and career of the late Earle C. Clements — who served as Kentucky’s governor, in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate — and his lifelong commitment to education and public service.
“He daily demonstrates outstanding leadership in and out of the classroom by promoting and strengthening high-quality civics education,” Roger Cook, superintendent of Taylor County Schools, said in nominating Peterson for the award. “He seeks to improve not only students, but himself through rigorous exploration of information and continuing education.”
Peterson said he loved history and reading from an early age, a passion he tries to pass along to his students.
“The main thing is to teach them to be optimistic about education,” he said, “because once they walk out the door, it’s just the beginning.”
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