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Northwest Missouri State University


Alumni Spotlight

May 16, 2018

Alumnus, history teacher nominated for national teaching award

Derek Frieling

Derek Frieling

Derek Frieling, a Northwest Missouri State University alumnus and teacher at Lafayette High School in St. Joseph, Missouri, is a nominee for the Harris History Teacher Award, which honors teachers who implement creative methods to interest students in history and help them make exciting discoveries about the past.

The Harris History Teacher of the Year award is sponsored by Dr. James F. Harris and awarded to one middle and high school teacher annually. Each of the 57 National History Day affiliates may nominate one middle and high school teacher for this award, and Frieling is the high school nominee from Missouri.

The two $5,000 awards are presented to teachers who demonstrate a commitment to engaging students in historical learning through innovative use of primary sources, implementation of active learning strategies to foster historical thinking skills, and participation in the National History Day Contest. 

The two national winners, who are selected by a team of teachers and historians, will be announced June 14.

“Teachers are one of the greatest resources children have to develop the skills necessary to be successful in both college and their careers,” National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn said. “The nominees for the Harris History Teacher Award have shown a dedication to teaching that goes beyond the classroom.”

Frieling earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education at Northwest in 1995 and returned to the University, completing his master’s degree in history in 1999. He credits Northwest for instilling professionalism and personalization in his teaching methods.

Frieling, who began his teaching career in 1995 and started at Lafayette the next year, believes students learn best when they become active participants in his lessons, and he incorporates a variety of activities to help them retain information. He turns his students into police detectives tasked with solving a murder that centers on characters involved with the French Revolution and incorporates primary source documents, pictures and artifacts as evidence. He assigns students to act as representatives at Independence Hall and write a new constitution that addresses each of 17 issues. During another activity, Frieling’s students plan a dinner party for a historical figure involved in World War II. 

Frieling also has won multiple travel and research opportunities for his students as well as himself. He conducted a professional development session in Ukraine after winning a teacher exchange program through which he shared ideas with teachers there. He also has accompanied students on research visits to China and Normandy, France.

Frieling annually participates in a summer session hosted by the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and has authored several lesson plans he shares with other teachers. He also is a member and former president of the Executive Board for the Missouri Council of the Social Studies.

“Each day I put in max effort so my students will be able to retain content and use that information to improve their own lives,” he said. “I don’t stop with my students, though. I have shared my ideas and experiences with teachers across the state, nation and world. I believe sharing beyond my own classroom has enabled me to win the statewide award and be nominated for the national prize. My intent was not to receive recognition, but it has all been part of the process of what I believe is the right thing to do. I attained the work ethic to continue to push for whatever was next to accomplish from my family, especially my father, while growing up on the farm. I just hope to convey some of those morals to my own children as well as my students.”

National History Day is a non-profit education organization headquartered in College Park, Maryland. Established in 1974, it promotes an appreciation for historical research among middle and high school students through multiple annual programs. More than half a million students participate in the annual National History Day Contest, which engages students in research-based projects that are entered into contests at local and affiliate levels. National History Day also provides professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators of all levels. For more information, visit nhd.org.


For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468