Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Randy Martin, New Mexico

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Randy Martin: 


Randy Martin, Desert Ridge Middle School
2017 New Mexico History Teacher of the Year 

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
“Albuquerque” was originally named after the Moorish-Spanish town of “Alburquerque” in Badajoz, Spain. Our Albuquerque is now more than 100 times bigger than the original town is. It is also one of the most entertaining cities to have people try to spell.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
I have traveled to 22 different nations on 4 continents in the past 5 years in order to visit and study in historical sites from all over the world, but my favorite site is still the original Jamestowne Island in Virginia. Jamestowne has a certain feeling or aura to it that nowhere else has. It’s almost like you can feel the forces of history that were at work there starting in 1607. There is a sense of hope and despair, enterprise and desperation, as well as adventure and tragedy that envelop you as you walk through the old fort. This is compounded by the fact that there are archaeologists working all around you as you visit, often pulling something out of the ground that has not been seen in 400 years. You never know what amazing and history-altering discovery might be just under your feet!

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
One of the principals I worked for used to have a little inspirational knick-knack on his desk. It was a small resin basketball going into a net that said “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” While I am terrible at basketball, the advice remains the same for a career in teaching. There are so many opportunities for teachers out there that are ours for the taking if you look for them. There are amazing travel and exchange opportunities though institutions like the Gilder Lehrman Institute that take you all over the nation and the world to study topics related to your content. There are grants for amazing materials or money to buy them. There are even seminars and professional development opportunities that will pay you to attend. All you have to do is look and apply. Take every shot. Even if you apply for 50 and only get 3, you will still have some amazing experiences that will enhance your teaching and your personal growth. I don’t know many other careers that offer these sorts of opportunities!

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
I recently learned about the importance of enlightenment thinker and teacher George Wythe. He was a teacher of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Henry Clay, John Marshall, and a number of other influential founding fathers, and thus had direct influences on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and various other timeless documents and ideas. His ideas on education and its purpose were also quite profound. I think we could all learn a great deal from him.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
When I was in middle school, a friend and I were looking for a movie to watch from among his father’s collection. Being “tough and hardened” adolescent boys, we were naturally looking for something that would be violent and gory. We ended up picking the Civil War movie Glory. The film follows the story of the 54th Massachusetts, a black regiment led by Colonel R. G. Shaw. It showed the hardships that the men had to face, not only as people of color, but as soldiers in the war. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who has not seen it, but I can say that both my friend and I, as tough and hardened as we thought we were, wept like the children that we actually were all night after it was over, and then had discussions and debates on the Civil War for weeks. Ultimately, it was that movie that made me interested in history, led me to study it, and travel to experience it, and gave me the desire to teach it. The story of Glory quite literally took hold of and changed my life.


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