The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History presented the 2012 National History Teacher of the Year Award to Josh Bill, a teacher at Waukegan High School in Waukegan, Illinois, on December 4, 2012. The award, including a $10,000 prize, was presented by Caroline Kennedy at the Frederick Douglass Academy, a public Gilder Lehrman flagship school in New York City. Bill was nominated for the award by his colleague Ali Schultz, an English teacher at Waukegan High School.

Mr. Bill is “just another historian in the room” as he allows his students to take the lead in discussions on complex issues in American history. His students are prepared to offer and defend their positions through the information that they have gathered from analyzing primary sources, a cornerstone of Mr. Bill’s classroom. Whether it is through a reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill in the school auditorium or a simulation of a Supreme Court hearing, Mr. Bill’s students are experiencing history through creative projects.

His students become immersed in historical research during preparation for the Chicago Metro History Fair, part of the National History Day Competition. In his first few years teaching, Mr. Bill revived the program at his school and has since led his students to success at the local, state, and national levels of the competition. He also reinvigorated a partnership between Waukegan High School and the Waukegan Historical Society that allows students to conduct research on the history of Waukegan. Several projects have gone beyond the competition to make lasting contributions to the local community. For his dedication and many classroom initiatives, Mr. Bill has been recognized by National History Day, the Illinois State Historical Society, and the Center for Civic Education. He is also active in mentoring new and future teachers through his alma mater, Lake Forest College. “As they enter my classroom,” says Mr. Bill, “students are unaware that they will leave not just as historians, but with an appreciation of the fact that American history resonates with their lives.”