Mr. Sandler and Students Attend the 2022 National History Teacher of the Year Event

Robert Sandler and his students attend the Gilder Lehrman 2022 National History Teacher of the Year award ceremony held by the Harvard Club.

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The Harvard Club recently held its annual National History Teacher of the Year award ceremony. Social studies teacher and 2014 National History Teacher of the Year Robert Sandler attended the event alongside several students.

Every year, state winners of the History Teacher of Year award receive recognition, in addition to classroom resources and a cash prize of $1000. The national winner, chosen from state winners, will also receive $10 thousand during the ceremony.

The event was held by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which aims to advance American history education through various programs and resources. One such program is their summer seminars. “I’m one of hundreds of teachers every summer that Gilder Lehrman pays for to attend these seminars of the best minds, the best academics of America on specific topics,” Sandler said. “It’s summer seminars where they get teachers to become experts on a topic, like really high level PD, [or] professional development.”

In addition to the events and programs directed toward the advancement of history teachers, the Gilder Lehrman Institute has many other online and in-person resources and events for scholars as well as students. “They also have a Lincoln book prize and a Douglas book prize for academics, like who could write the best books on specific topics of Lincoln or on slavery, and they give out $50 thousand book prizes,” Sandler said. “They also [sponsor thousands of kids from low-income schools] to go see Hamilton. [...] Gilder Lehrman also has an online website with an AP study guide, and they have historical journals with essays.”

Sandler took his students to the event to help them gain new experiences while celebrating history teachers. “I thought it’d be a nice experience because it celebrates teachers, it celebrates history. I know the kids wanted to go to Harvard Club, and I thought it’d be fun for them as an experience,” Sandler said. “And they get to celebrate teachers. I think teachers don't get enough credit for how hard we all work trying to make our subject interesting.”

Student attendees described the Harvard Club event as a good opportunity to make connections and engage with other students. “I’d say it was very bougie and high status and prestigious, and it was overall pretty nice since we got to eat free food that was pretty fancy. It was also nice to meet people from different schools because a lot of schools like Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech came […] as well,” junior William Tang said. “It was nice to network and meet people.”

Student attendees shared that the event gave them access to various other opportunities. “I guess [the experience] overlaps [with] a lot of different opportunities in a sense because the Gilder Lehrman Institute has a lot of programs for high students, and so [I got] to learn more about that and the potential opportunities I can take advantage of as a high school student in the city,” junior Sofia Hernandez said.

Attendees also described the event as inspirational. “It [was] very eye opening. I have never done anything like this before, so I mean I was very excited. I got ready and everything,” junior Violeta Zani said. “I feel like the ceremony really highlighted what importance teachers play in our lives, especially when looking at Ms. Matsumoto.” Ms. Misha Matsumoto Yee was the recipient of the national History Teacher of the Year award this year.

“Hearing about [Matsumoto’s] accomplishments in her school for girls, hearing about the influence her mother had on her life, and hearing about the women's histories she highlighted in her lessons was inspiring for me,” Zani said.

Another reason Sandler invited his students to the event was to support Sukanya Ferguson, a Stuyvesant senior who spoke at the event. “Another thing Gilder Lehrman does is they have a student advisory council. Over the past 10 years, I’ve had many students nominated to be on that board. Sukanya Ferguson, or Suki, who is also the President of the Black Student League, was speaking at this event [and] introducing the teacher who won the award out of 50 states,” Sandler said. “We wanted to show her support because it’s scary speaking in a room of like 200 people, including politicians and big donors and philanthropists.”

Ferguson described speaking at the event as intimidating but enjoyable nonetheless. “That was my second time attending the Harvard Club and it’s just a surreal experience because of the entire area of intellectuals and historians. It was a different vibe, because I was a bit nervous because I was speaking, in comparison to my first time in which I was just attending, having dinner and stuff like that,” Ferguson said. “So there was a little bit of pressure there, but it was an enjoyable experience. They [Gilder Lehrman] had everything laid down for me. They had notecards, everything, I was sitting up at the front with everyone else and it was an enjoyable experience.”

Ferguson attributes Sandler’s support as a factor that contributed to her ability to speak at the event in the first place. “I remember having conversations last year at the previous Harvard Club Event that I went to and there was another student speaker. I asked, ‘Has there been anyone from Stuy who spoke up there?’ and [Sandler was] like, ‘Yeah, and you could definitely be next,’ and then I was next. So he definitely opened up those opportunities for me and has been beside me ever since I met him,” Ferguson said. “It was a way for me to articulate my skills and be able to push myself a bit more. It was an opportunity I didn’t expect I’d get but I was really grateful to have that opportunity.”

Fellow student attendees found it motivational to see student representatives speak at the event. “I’d say I also learned a lot from the student speakers, specifically Sukanya. She is my Big Sib chair and I look up to her in so many ways, and seeing her give that speech and actually having that opportunity was inspiring for me because when I see a fellow Stuy student doing something like that or even being given the opportunity to go to these events, it really motivates me because I’ve seen the potential to do [such things],” Zani said.

In the future, Sandler plans to maintain this tradition of bringing students to similar events. “I always try to take students [because] I know it’s fun for them. Especially after the pandemic with everything being remote, to get dressed up—some of the boys wore really nice suits—to go to this fancy Harvard Club, which a lot of the kids were excited by, and meet students from around NYC, and even some kids from around the nation […] was nice for me and the kids,” he said. “I realize in retrospect there are many kids I wish I also got to take […] and I’ll try to take them to future events.”