Steamboat’s Deirdre Boyd honored as Colorado’s history teacher of year
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Emboldening and inspiring Steamboat Springs High School students for nearly two decades, history teacher Deirdre Boyd doesn’t sugarcoat the aspects of America’s past that can be more difficult and uncomfortable to confront.
It was her 10th-grade curriculum, in which she asks key questions linking past to present, that earned Boyd recognition as the 2018 Colorado History Teacher of the Year.
Presented by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the award highlights the importance of history education by honoring exceptional American history teachers from each state.
Joined by her teaching partners, Boyd describes the curriculum they’ve proudly spent a decade working on as “really powerful and different.”
Incorporating American literature, the curriculum centers around three thematic units.
First, students explore the quest for equality through perspectives of those who are not typically the authors of textbooks, primarily Native Americans, African Americans and women.
Over centuries, students arrive at the present, asking “Have these groups achieved equality?”
Boyd said her students are often surprised to learn how much social, economic and political inequality remains.
“It’s easy to think, especially in a place like Steamboat, that all is good,” Boyd said, “That all has been solved, and that the fight for civil rights ended in the ’60s.”
In the second unit, they focus on economics, specifically through the lens of hunger in America. Using the issue that profoundly affects millions today, though nearly eradicated in the 1970s, Boyd focuses on the question “How much should the government intervene?”
Students learn about the fundamental debate between a laissez-faire economy and the responsibility of government as a safety net.
In the third unit, the students examine U.S. intervention abroad. They study the Holocaust, Vietnam and carry through to Iraq, Afghanistan and ISIS.
Students ask themselves, “When, if ever, is use of force justified?” using a broad definition to include economic, psychological and legal force. Woven throughout is the decision by every participant in history to be a bystander, an upstander or a perpetrator.
Boyd is the first to acknowledge her curriculum can be viewed as controversial.
“People get concerned when we start to talk about race and poverty,” she said. “It brings up emotions — and fear.”
But she is determined in her goal to arm her students with information and context and to empower them to see they have a role to play in the world.
“They should get involved in politics and in their communities,” Boyd said. “They should be part of something bigger than themselves.”
Boyd loves her kids, and loves her job. She loves interacting each day with “150 comedians,” who make her laugh. But they also cry as they talk about atrocity and injustice. She is grateful to share those emotions with her students, describing them as “beautiful in their open-mindedness.”
Beginning her career as a lawyer, Boyd quickly realized that wasn’t her passion. She realized she was meant to be a high school history teacher.
Boyd received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1986, her law degree from University of Colorado in 1992 and then made a career switch and earned her master’s degree in education in 1996 from the University of Colorado at Denver.
She taught on the Front Range for six years before moving to Steamboat. Today, she calls herself very lucky for where she works, being given the trust to present American history and contemporary issues objectively through what she describes as a “realistic lens — letting the kids decide.”
Boyd hopes her kids will stand up for what they believe, whatever that may be.
Hannah Heil, a 2018 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, is headed to New York University to study vocal performance.
Boyd “made history so much more interesting and engaging and made class very open to discussion, which I loved,” Heil said.
Heil said she appreciated learning about parts of history, like the Native American movement and how people are affected today by that history.
Heil’s classmate Alta Kaster said she also admired Boyd for teaching parts of history that no one knows about or pretends didn’t happen.
“I’m now interested in being a teacher, because I want to impact people the way she does,” Kaster said.
Heil became choked up as she tried to put Boyd’s influence on her life into words.
“Having a teacher like Ms. Boyd helped me see how I can use my art and my passion to make an impact socially and politically,” Heil said.
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Students in the Steamboat Springs School District generally did as good or better in English language arts last school year but struggled to keep pace in math, according to results of state standardized testing.