Teacher of the Year Tim Bailey: On the Importance of Connecting with the Past

Why is it so important to understand history? “Because history is the common experience that binds us together as a civilization,” explains Tim Bailey, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History 2009 National History Teacher of the Year. “If we do not understand where we came from and how we got here, we cannot understand where we are going and what it will take to get there. This cannot be a one-time conclusion that people reach, but a generational legacy.”

Here’s how Bailey suggests we bring the lessons home: 

  • Kids: Fall in love with history. “History is the most engaging subject because it is our story,” insists Bailey, who believes that teachers can engage students by using the deeds and words of the people who wrote that story. How? “Use primary sources, realistic simulations, visual and tactile artifacts, field trips. Get students closer to the action rather than looking at it from a great distance.”
  • Teachers: Ditto for you. If you love history yourself, convey to your students why the subject is meaningful to you by, for example, taking them to see where things happened, he says. “If you can’t do that, then read to them or show them things about historical events and the people involved. Ask them critical questions about the decisions of not only historical figures, but current figures, who will be remembered for the decisions that they are making today.”
  • Parents: Ask your children questions. “And ask yourself questions. For example: Should we get rid of the Electoral College to elect the president? Why did the founders put it in place to begin with? Go find the pertinent information and have an informed discussion. Or discuss with your kids how much the government should help out its citizens. “Look at the New Deal, the Affordable Care Act, The Great Society, etc. Then talk about it, argue, debate, compromise, … but from an informed point of view.”

Bailey says his passion for history has been a lifelong love affair.

“When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my great-grandmother told me that as much as I loved history, I was going to be a history professor someday,” he admits. “So I guess I come by my passion for history pretty honestly.”

In fact, Bailey taught elementary school for most of his career, finishing up as an 8th grade US history teacher in Salt Lake City. A couple of years ago, The Gilder Lehrman Institute asked him to be the director of a program called “Teaching Literacy through History.” In 2012, he was named director of Education for the Institute.

What is his favorite time period in history?

“That is like asking me what’s my favorite book or movie, or even flavor of ice cream!” he exclaims.

“I have lots of favorites. I have found something extremely compelling in every period of history that I have ever studied. For example, when I wrote a series of books for Scholastic on using simulations to teach different periods in American history, for each period I was blown away by what I discovered in doing my research.”

What does it take to become a National History Teacher of the Year?

The National History Teacher of the Year Award recognizes outstanding K–12 American history teachers across the country. Nominate an outstanding teacher you know!

The National winner receives a $10,000 prize presented at an award ceremony in their honor in New York City, according to the Gilder Lerhman website. State winners receive a $1,000 prize and an archive of classroom resources.

Bailey says history teachers of the year have gone above and beyond—they are not the average teacher, but the excellent teacher. “An NHTOY is someone who makes history an integral part of their teaching while making it come alive for students in a relevant way. It’s an honor to receive this title, and it’s an honor to know the wonderful teachers who have earned it.”


About Tim Bailey

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History presented the 2009 National History Teacher of the Year Award to Tim Bailey, a history teacher at Escalante Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bailey began his teaching career in 1989, and obtained both his undergraduate and master’s degrees in education from the University of Utah, where he has served as an adjunct faculty member and teacher mentor for the past eight years.

He has written three American history workbooks focused on primary sources for elementary classrooms in the Easy Simulations series, published in 2008 by Scholastic. A Fulbright Scholar in 2003, he has earned several awards from the state of Utah, the Salt Lake City school district, and others.