Everyone’s had a teacher that impacted their life. Maybe they were patient when algebra was beyond comprehension, maybe they loaned personal equipment when school resources weren’t sufficient or maybe they just cared enough about the student’s personal growth in the field of study to reach them any way necessary.
Paul Huard is one of those teachers. He was awarded the “Oregon High School Teacher of the Year” award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization Jan. 20 at their annual state convention in Newport, Oregon. Huard teaches advanced placement United States history and American literature at Ashland High School, where he is also chairman of the social studies department.
Huard said that the award came as a surprise. He said that Ashland High expects a lot out of their students, and that he’s no different from any other teacher there, except that he’s deeply passionate about U.S. history.
“I’m very humbled by this award,” Huard said. “The VFW have done more in terms of public service than I ever have, so it means a lot to me that they have recognized me for what I do, which is to simply do my job as a teacher.”
Huard also received a combined award of more than a thousand dollars from the state VFW, VFW District 7 and Medford VFW Post 1833 for professional development expenses and for the school.
Maj. Frank Sobotka, VFW Post 1833 project chairman, said that the award usually goes to a nominated teacher who is committed to civics education and patriotism. After he was nominated, a representative from the post visited the classroom, interviewed Huard and reviewed his lesson plans, and articles he’s written on U.S. history.
In Sobotka’s nomination letter to the organization, he highlighted Huard’s teaching curriculum and the way Huard enables his students to immerse themselves in Americanism.
“Patriotism is hereditary: his father fought on both WWII fronts. His son had two Army tours in Iraq. But his personal patriotism is what makes our country’s history relevant to his 21st century students,” the document began.
Huard said that appreciating U.S. history is hard work sometimes, that students of the subject, including himself, need to be competent writers, readers, thinkers and sometimes be pushed outside of their comfort level.
“I want my students to understand that the United States is essentially a great nation,” Huard said, "and there are things worth believing in, in terms of our democratic heritage, our rights and freedoms, and our political process.”
He said sometimes it’s difficult for his students to remember that the U.S. is built upon freedoms and rights worth believing in.
“I want them to understand that — not for reasons of sentimentality, but because they’re going to be voters someday and I want them to know there are things in this country that are good and worth keeping, and the only way we will keep those good things is by them being involved as voters, involved as citizens, and involved as individuals that have some belief in what the United States offers its citizens.”
It was a former student, Mali Wileman, a junior psychology major at Southern Oregon University and Sobotka’s granddaughter, who nominated Huard for the award.
Wileman said before taking Huard’s classes, she had little interest in U.S. history, but he made the classes enjoyable by including fun facts in his lessons and paying detailed attention to his students.
“Honestly, I never experienced anything less than good teaching in his class,” Wileman said. “He’s a phenomenal teacher.”
Wileman also said that during one of the years she was in his classes, her family was displaced from their home, and he was very accommodating with making sure she had ample time to finish her assignments.
“It’s very clear that he loves what he does and he’s really passionate about getting people to understand where they’re from and where they’d like to go,” Wileman said. “He definitely deserves some recognition.”
As the state winner, Huard will now be considered for the national level, which should be announced around June.
—Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Feb. 12: Story updated to correct the name of the city where the award was presented.)