Introducing Brandon Brown, the 2018 North Carolina History Teacher of the Year

Brandon Brown

North Carolina History Teacher of the Year

Brandon Brown, Lake Norman Charter School, Huntersville, North CarolinaSince 2004, 749 exemplary American history teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools in all fifty states, Department of Defense schools, Washington DC, and US territories have been named State History Teacher of the Year. The National History Teacher of the Year is named in the fall. The 2018 State History Teachers of the Year were asked informal questions by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. 

Do you have a favorite/funny moment from teaching?

As a running joke in my class I often talk about how much I love my favorite historian, Eric Foner. This love of Foner has sometimes been reciprocated by my students from little drawings in their notebook to taking pictures of themselves in funny places with his books. One student even created a giant 3' X 4' poster with a picture of Eric Foner photoshopped to hold a seltzer can (which I drink constantly in school). The poster has created a great bonding moment for me and my students who are in on the fun. Another student, as a thank you for a good year in class, wrote to Eric Foner asking if he would sign one of his books with a personalized note to me. This signed book is now displayed proudly in my classroom.

Tell us one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in. 

I grew up in Ithaca, NY, a small but unique town that sticks out in many ways from the rest of upstate NY due to the influence of Cornell University and Ithaca College. I could go so many ways with Ithaca history . . . inventor of the ice cream sundae, pioneers in silent film, home for a short period of time of the notorious RBG, or even maker of Annie Oakley’s preferred tool. But I am a history nerd, so although a deep cut, I am proud every year when I teach the Panama Canal to share with my students a titan in the historical field, Walter Lefeber, who was a long-time professor at Cornell University. Lefeber was a leader in the revisionist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

What was the last great history book you read?

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi’s book is bold in its mission to trace racism. It is also very accessible as Kendi creates a spectrum of racism (segregationists to assimilationists to non-racists) to help the reader track the different manifestations of racist ideas throughout American history. 

What is your favorite historical site or museum?

Not necessarily a site or museum, but an artifact: the Stanley Cup. It is such a great idea connecting hockey’s past and present through a trophy. My first introduction and appreciation to history as an idea/thing one does was through sports trivia and sports history. 

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

In terms of fun, Benjamin Franklin sounds like he would be a good hang.  

What is your favorite historical film or series?

All the President's Men – the film does a good job of staying close to the historical record (relative to many other films), helping people from my generation better understand Watergate. 

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?

The 1920s – one of the big arguments I make about the 1920s in class is that it is the birth of the modern age, and with the birth of the modern age a bubbling culture war was brought to the surface. This culture war, of course, has continued.

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 way to make it easier is to remember what it was like to be a student. One of the biggest traps a teacher can fall into is “kids these days.” The idea that you are/were somehow different than your students when you were their age will separate you from your students.