Introducing Cathy Lee, the 2018 Mississippi History Teacher of the Year

Cathy Lee 

Mississippi History Teacher of the Year 

Cathy Lee, Petal Middle School, Petal, MississippiSince 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 moments are when my students do their historical interpretations as the culminating activity for our Traveling Trunk Project. The students must research and then take on the persona of a historical figure. They then have to present to visitors, parents, and fellow students as well as the public and administrators. When I see them stand with confidence in costume and “become” that historical figure, I am filled with such pride and awe. Many former students have reached out to me to say what an impact this has had on their lives. Many of them have received college scholarships for speech and debate and credit this activity as the starting point for that choice. 

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

I grew up in an area far out in the country with the closest town was seven miles away. Everyone in my community went to a small school together. I rode horses, went swimming in the creek, walked to friends’ houses and explored the woods with all my cousins who lived within three miles of my grandmother’s house where we congregated often, many times at meal time. 

What was the last great history book you read? 

Abigail Adams: A Life by Woody Holton

What is your favorite historical site or museum? 

I love Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. I have had the opportunity to experience Mount Vernon through two teacher institutes. As a participant in these institutes, I had the privilege to stay on the grounds and was able to walk around and explore the grounds freely when there were no tourists. I could almost envision the peace that George and Martha would have known sitting there on the back veranda looking over the river, even though he was only able to do that for a short time in his life.  

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

I would choose to meet George Washington’s personal servant/slave, Billy Lee. He was by Washington’s side as a silent observer throughout every moment of Washington’s life. He heard almost all the information relayed to George Washington by generals, friends, and even spies throughout the American Revolutionary War. Billy Lee would have more knowledge about George Washington than anyone else of his time regarding the war, his presidency, and the secrets of his personal and professional life. 

What is your favorite historical film or series?

I have enjoyed watching the Masterpiece series Victoria.  

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?

My students initially have a high interest level regarding the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. At the end of the year, most students choose the Industrial Revolution as their favorite unit of US history. 

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

The rewards are innumerable yet usually not public. You may not always see the results of what you do, but EVERY other career depends on effective teachers.  As a teacher, you have the ability, like no other person, to make the world a better place. 

Click here to nominate a teacher for the 2019 state and national awards.