Love of history: Teacher’s ability to reach students leads to honor
By Nathan Hardin
West Rowan High School teacher Stephen Suther says he’s “kind of crazy about history.”
And it seems history ó or at least folks who care about history ó are crazy about him.
Suther, who has been teaching for 39 years, will receive the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution 2009 Outstanding Teacher of American History award in Washington on July 11.
The 61-year-old classroom veteran has already won six teaching awards, including being named a Star Teacher twice by former students ó in 2002 by Alicia Wilson and 2008 by Katie Cox.
The Daughters of the American Revolution award goes to American history teachers in grades 6 to 12. Suther was selected out of 34 candidates for the national honor.
But it’s a love of history, not the recognition, that keeps Suther excited about his job.
“I’m so fired up that during the summertime I go to historic sites,” he said.
Jamie Durant, principal of West Rowan High School, said Suther deserves the teaching acclaim.
“I think it’s great,” Durant said. “It really speaks to his ability to reach teenagers and bring history to life.”
Kaycee Ingram, who was enrolled in honors and advanced placement U.S. history with Suther, also expressed her admiration.
“I am very impressed and proud of his award,” she said.
A freshman at Salem College in Winston-Salem, Ingram explained why she thought Suther was chosen for the award.
“He reminds me of a college professor in that he is so willing to help students and is a friend as well as a teacher,” Ingram said.
Suther has been teaching at West Rowan for 11 years and was once a Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactor. He often incorporates those experiences into his teaching methods.
“I’ve seen him come to school in Civil War and other various outfits for his lessons,” Durant said.
The third-generation teacher explained that since he was young, he wanted to teach history.
“When I was in 11th grade, my history teacher even let me teach the Civil War chapter,” Suther recalled. “It took me a day and a half.”
Suther graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory and says with a laugh that when he began teaching, “I thought I could change the whole world.”
While the whole world may be a tall order, Suther has influenced a lot of students.
The latest accolade came after a fellow church member asked him to write an essay for the Daughters of the American Revolution award in January because they needed applicants from the Piedmont district. Three months later, Suther had not only won the state award, but the national one as well.
He’s modest about the achievement.
“Winning this award was a nice thing, but there are so many good teachers out there who haven’t stumbled across this type of recognition,” Suther said.
Even so, there’s no stumbling into history for Suther. He and his family will be spending part of their summer vacation visiting Saratoga, Fort Pitt, and the U.S. military academy at West Point.
Then it’s back to school, and back to making the past come alive for a new group of students.
“I’m still excited about history and I’m not going to think about retiring as long as I feel like I’m accomplishing something,” Suther said.