Sarah Wilder

Sarah Wilder, 2023 Gilder Lehrman Kentucky History Teacher of the Year

Sarah Wilder said it’s the passion for her students that has kept her motivated over the past 20 years.

“The students helped shape me into the type of educator I am, and they inspire me to dig deeper and to be a better teacher,” said Wilder. “Their passion, their enthusiasm, it ignites a fire in me, and I want to do more and help them learn more.”

Wilder, a 5th-grade social studies teacher at W.R. McNeill Elementary (Bowling Green Independent), was named the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History 2023 Kentucky History Teacher of the Year award.

“It was quite an honor,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised but also humbled because so many other highly qualified educators had applied for that and been nominated. So, it was very humbling and exciting.”

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, founded in 1994, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to K-12 history education by promoting knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources.

Educators are nominated for the award by a colleague, parent or student. After receiving a nomination, teachers must submit various materials to be considered for the state award. Winners are selected by a committee of educators and education professionals in their state.

As a recipient of the award, Wilder received a $1,000 prize, a core archive of American history books, Gilder Lehrman educational materials, and the opportunity to attend and be recognized for the award at the Kentucky Historical Society’s annual History Awards.

She also became one of 53 finalists for the 2023 National History Teacher of the Year Award.

“I’m still, after all these years, teaching 5th grade, and I love it and still have passion for it,” said Wilder. “I see how excited the students are about learning and it’s contagious. It continues to motivate me to continue doing all the fun and engaging activities that we do.”

Over the years, she has continued to develop her education, like attaining her principal certification and working with the Teachers Curriculum Institute as well as taking opportunities at the Green River Regional Education Cooperative (GRREC) enhancing her skills both in and out of the classroom.

“I started to seek out additional ways that I could grow professionally, and I found some opportunities like the Teaching American History grants that were offered through GRREC and I applied and was accepted.”

By expanding her education, Wilder said she not only grew in her career, but her new knowledge has also made an impact on her students.

“I learned through the grant the importance of teaching the students to become critical thinkers. Not just reading a passage and answering the questions, but to dig into these historical documents and these primary sources and the kids love it,” she said.

Wilder said being an educator is much more than teaching her students about American history and meeting educational standards. Being in the classroom allows her to encourage her students to have a positive impact inside and outside of her classroom.

“I think about the immense responsibility that we have as educators and the power that lies in our hands to really shape these young minds and transform them,” she said. “It is such a huge but awesome responsibility, and I want to continue to inspire them to become well-rounded citizens that understand our rights; that realize it’s not the perfect union but they have the power in their hands to make it a more perfect union.”