Know it, love it, teach it: Loeschke named top history teacher in Minnesota

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CANNON FALLS — Teaching teenagers about government, politics and history may seem like a daunting task for most, but for Heather Loeschke she wouldn't want to do anything else.

As a Cannon Falls High School teacher for 17 years, Loeschke has played devil's advocate for discussions amongst student Democrats and Republicans, preached her love of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution (she's a self-described "fanatic") and won six state We The People titles during her time in the district.

Recently, Loeschke was named the Minnesota History Teacher of Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Loeschke said she has been a nominee for the award three times and isn't sure who's nominated her each time.

Loeschke is like a walking, breathing history textbook. She knows what President John F. Kennedy's favorite drink was (it's strawberry daiquiris - her favorite as well), she marvels at the politically mastery of Abraham Lincoln, and welcomes discussions on state and federal policies.

She originally wanted to be a physical education teacher while in her hometown of Sleepy Eye, Minn., citing her positive upbringing in the school system. Loeschke even had the chance to help teach physical education classes during her senior year.

However, once she got to college, she had a change of heart.

"I quickly learned in college that, unless I was actually participating in the sport, you kind of felt that you didn't fit in that department," Loeschke said. "I was always really, really good at history ... I remember the moment that I called my mom and said, I'm still going to teach, but I'm going to teach history."

Loeschke said she's moved on from her positive upbringing in the school system to being "a master of her craft," teaching 14-year-old students about civics or challenging upperclassmen with complex political questions.

In her advanced placement government and politics class, she's had staunch Republicans and Democrats, but all of the conversations have been civil, focusing on intelligent points of discussion.

When it comes to her own political beliefs, Loeschke said she leaves that at the door. She said she wants to make the focus of the class material to be about the processes of government, rather than the politics.

"I think the majority of my students will probably tell you they have no idea what political flavor I tend to support," Loeschke said.

Context

One of Loeschke's major teaching points is about context in history. When it comes to debating whether things should be stricken down or removed from the record, Loeschke is hesitant, wanting to know more about the subject's origin.

"I think we try to examine everything through a 21st century lens," Loeschke said. "Yes, we try to be politically correct. And in doing so, I think you can do some damage to history."

Loeschke preaches context to her students, especially when they're competing during We The People events.

Last December, the Cannon Falls School District won its sixth state title under Loeschke. As a result, the class was able to visit Washington, D.C., where they competed in the national event.

We The People is a competition where teams will be given a curriculum based topics like political philosophy, the Bill of Rights or institutions of government.

Students will have to deliver a four-minute speech to a panel of expert judges, with Loeschke describing the room set up like a mock congressional hearing. After the speech, the team will then have a si- minute question and answer discussion to see if they advance.

Loeschke said at national competition this year, a team of three students made such an impression, one of the judges gave them a high compliment, saying they could listen to the team talk all day.

When the students ask Loeschke what she thought of her performance, she said she was proud, amidst a steady stream of tears flowing.

With her award, Loeschke will have the chance to attend a Gilder Lehrman conference. In the past, the institution has held conferences in other countries. Loeschke said she'll look in to conferences overseas, hopefully in Scotland, a place she's romanticized since she was a young girl.

To win the award is "humbling," according to Loeschke said. Who said that anytime teachers can be recognized for their work and passion is important.

While there is a layer of validation that comes to reward her for her persistence and hard work, Loeschke said that her kids deserve credit as well. Also, she would've done all of the work she currently does regardless. No award would change the way she operates.

So to the future teachers of the world, Loeschke has two pieces of advice: know your content and teach what you love.