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The City Journals

Special recognition for retiring history teacher

Jul 26, 2021 03:13PM ● By Jet Burnham

Fifth grade teacher Liz Halloran receives the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award from U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens in front of her students. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens visited Westland Elementary on May 24 to award fifth grade teacher Liz Halloran with the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award for her 23 years of participation in the National History Day Contest.

Coming from a family of educators, Owens said he enjoys recognizing great teachers.

“I understand what it is when teachers who love their profession see that light coming on in their students’ eyes,” he said.

Halloran’s students, who’d been studying U.S. History and civics this year, were quizzed by the representative. He also signed their pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution and posed for a picture with each of them as they tried on his Super Bowl ring.

“It's super cool that he actually came to our school,” said Lindsey Walker, a student in Halloran’s class. “But what makes it even cooler is he knows what Miss Halloran did, and he came to take the time to talk to her.” 

Lindsey said she learned a lot in Halloran’s class this year, through class discussions and in-depth projects.

“She gets us interested in what's in the real world, not just in the classroom and in the school,” Lindsey said.

Halloran is a passionate teacher who aims to instill in her students an understanding of and a love of their country’s Constitution. She also wants them to enjoy learning.

“If we are not having fun, then we are doing something wrong,” Halloran said. “Kids get excited about anything their teacher is passionate about. I’m passionate about America, freedom and liberty. It shows in everything I do and say.”

Because she is the ALPS teacher for gifted students, Halloran has the flexibility and resources to infuse additional projects into her curriculum, such as a mock Congressional Hearing, a visit to Junior Achievement City and participation in the district and state history fairs. Each month, she asks students to memorize a poem or historical text and then perform it using props.

“She typically uses primary resources to go beyond mundane surface information and helps her students dig deeper to get a more internalized feel for history and the people who made that history,” fellow fifth grade teacher Kent Larson said. “She engages in and allows her students to have protracted discussions about the impact of those historical events, and she helps them see the relevance of those events as they echo in today's America. Those are the kinds of things that will stay with them a lifetime.” 

Larson said Halloran is passionate and innovative in her teaching methods.

“She finds highly creative ways to keep [students] curious and engaged,” he said. “Her energy level is off the charts, and her enthusiasm for teaching is contagious.”

Lucas Crook, another student in Halloran’s class, said Halloran makes learning interesting because she is excited about it. He said she paused during a singing practice to add historical context to the song they were learning for their patriotic program.

Halloran loves learning as much as she loves teaching. She reads historical books, and last year she took a class on the U.S. Constitution. Two years ago, she took a trip to visit U.S. historic sites.

“It was the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “We saw every statue and historical site from Boston to Philadelphia.” She said the historic sites came alive for her and enhanced her teaching as she was able to share firsthand experiences with her students, such as when she hid behind the trees on a pathway between Lexington and Concord and reenacted an attack on British soldiers.

“I was able to infuse all of my experiences and pictures into my talking points for the kids and make it all come more alive,” she said. “To actually show the students the pictures of places we were talking about in our history books was powerful.”

Halloran retired in June after 24 years of teaching. Students, parents and colleagues said they will miss her enthusiasm.

“Liz makes special connections with each of her students and advocates for their success not only in fifth grade but throughout their schooling careers,” colleague Larah Lewis said. “Those who have had the opportunity to sit in her classes know how much she cares about them.”