By David Mills
Teri Lusk loves history. And she loves to teach it.
Her eighth grade students at Stanley Middle School are certainly aware of that.
"My kids know I'm into it," says Lusk.
Her passion, dedication and creative teaching methods have garnered her some recognition the past few weeks.
Lusk was recently chosen as one of seven regional finalists in the Teacher of the Year competition sponsored by the California League of Middle Schools.
Although she wasn't chosen to go to the state finals in February, Lusk will be honored on Wednesday night by the Lafayette School District board of education.
Stanley Middle School Principal David Schrag nominated Lusk for the teacher of the year competition. He did so without hesitation.
"Teri is an amazing teacher who exemplifies what Stanley is about: supporting students and building relationships while also holding them to high expectations," said Schrag. "So many students realize that what Teri teaches is not simply facts or dates, but how to read critically, write an argument and support it with evidence, and be an active and vocal participant in our democratic society."
Lusk did not take a direct route to teaching.
Her father was a U.S. Navy jet fighter pilot, so her family lived all over the country.
"I think that's when I picked up my love of history," she said.
Lusk did waitressing jobs in her early 20s before attending Santa Monica Community College and then U.C. Berkeley, earning a degree in American history in 1988.
She still wasn't sure what to do with her degree until her mother suggested she get into teaching.
"She told me I loved history and I needed to share that," Lusk recalled.
So, Lusk obtained a credential from Cal State East Bay and jumped into the teaching profession.
"Thank gosh I got into teaching. It's the perfect job for me," said Lusk. "I wake up every morning excited to come to work."
She spent her first year in the Pittsburg Unified School District,where she said she learned how to keep control of a class.
She then worked four years in Redwood City before landing a job at Stanley Middle School in 1995. She's been there ever since.
She now has children of her former Stanley students in her classes.
"I love working with young adults," said Lusk. "They are in such a transitional age. They're excited, they're learning empathy and they'll still laugh at my dumb jokes."
Lusk said teaching middle school requires passion, knowledge and conviction.
She has one rule in her class: Be nice or leave.
"I don't get mad at them," said Lusk. "I just get quiet."
Lusk has a reputation for working her students hard, a fact she doesn't deny.
Her class focuses on American history from 1800 to 1900. The Civil War is her favorite subject.
"The Civil War is my passion," she admits.
Lusk's lesson plans do veer into pre-1800 and post-1900 topics because she says it's important for students to know how we as a country got into the 1800s and what we did afterward.
Her class is broken into nine units. At the end of most units, she requires her students to put together a project.
The most recent was a newspaper front page announcing the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Lusk also uses debate as a teaching tool. During the year, her students will form teams and argue past U.S. Supreme Court cases.
They'll also do re-creations as well as watch PBS history documentaries and discuss them afterward.
"I like my kids to think things through," said Lusk.
Lusk, who is married but doesn't have any children of her own, said she looks forward to seeing her school kids every day.
She also likes to mix things up, changing her lesson plans every fall and spring.
"I don't do the same thing every year," she said.
Her love of history also drives her forward.
Lusk said history is interesting because of the continuity of ideas and the challenge presented by each generation.
She said the journey this country has been on is a fascinating topic.
"We are truly an exceptional nation," she said.