Introducing Connie Lopez-Fink, the 2018 Tennessee History Teacher of the Year

Connie Lopez-Fink

Tennessee History Teacher of the Year

Connie Lopez-Fink, University School of Nashville, Nashville, Tennessee (pictured with her students)Since 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?

My favorite moment from teaching happened just last year. Our school is next door to one of the oldest historic African American neighborhoods in Nashville, the Edgehill community. Students spent weeks exploring the historic events that led to defining the neighborhood’s identity. They also researched the current developments that are shifting the demographics and landscape of Edgehill. Their learning was represented in a mural they designed and helped create. To culminate the learning, residents of the Edgehill community were invited to a “Nashville for All” mural celebration. It was a highlight in my teaching career because students passionately owned the learning and were authentically connecting with the community. 

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

While Nashville was coined “Music City USA” by a country DJ in the 1950s, the world renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers may have played a role in shaping the city’s reputation in the late 1800s, when they performed in Europe for Queen Victoria. People claim that the queen was so impressed with their talent that she remarked that they must have “come from music city.”

What was the last great history book you read?

My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations by Mary Frances Berry. I was ecstatic to find out that Callie House lived in Nashville and near our school. 

What is your favorite historical site or museum?

I spent a week at Mount Vernon’s George Washington Teacher Institution and fell in love with the property and its rich history.

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

I am intrigued by the American leader in nonviolent civil rights movements Bayard Rustin. I would like to ask him about his involvement with the Journey of Reconciliation, how being openly gay during this time period impacted his role in the movement, and about his experience organizing the March on Washington.

What is your favorite historical film or series?

Genius on the National Geographic channel. Season 1, “Albert Einstein” and season 2, “Pablo Picasso.” 

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?

When students come back to visit me, they always fondly remember the civil rights unit. It is designed as an English and social studies integrated unit. The goal is for students to learn how nonviolent movements are organized to create change.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?

In my late thirties, I decided to switch careers. I had worked in the international marketing field, jumping from one job to the next. The jobs I left behind did not have the rewards I experience as an educator. As an educator, every year is different. I am always learning along with my students. Their curiosity and questions challenge me to deepen my understanding of history.