McGraw High School history teacher receives state honor

Caitlin Goodwin, history teacher at McGraw High School. (Photo Source: Timothy A. Bennett/Owner & Publisher of The Cortland Voice).

A McGraw High School recently received a prestigious honor.

Ms. Caitlin Goodwin, who teaches at McGraw, has been named this year’s New York State History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to K-12 American History. The History Teacher of the Year award began in 2004, as it highlights the “crucial importance of history education by honoring exceptional American History teachers from elementary school through high school,” according to a release.

Goodwin is one of 53 finalists for the National History Teacher of the Year. The winner of this award will be announced in October.

In addition to her state recognition, Goodwin received a $1,000 honorarium, a core archive of American History books and Gilder Lehrman educational materials.

“New York State is huge, and it’s me and my little school. It feels good to be recognized,” Goodwin said, a history teacher at McGraw for 11 years. She will be going into her 12th year for the upcoming 2022-23 school year.

Caitlin Goodwin, history teacher at McGraw High School. (Photo Source: Timothy A. Bennett/Owner & Publisher of The Cortland Voice).

Goodwin was nominated for the award by two of her friends, both of whom are teachers in different parts of the country.

“Ms. Goodwin has always demonstrated a love of history and passion for teaching our students at McGraw. Whether she is bringing students to Washington D.C. or France or just bringing them outside to reenact the Battle of Bunker Hill in the snow, she is enthusiastic, innovative and gets kids excited to learn, in and out of the classroom. She always goes above and beyond her expected duties, showing commitment not only to her profession, but to our district and students as well.” said Mark Dimorier, principal of McGraw Jr. Sr. High School.

Goodwin is a SUNY Cortland alumnus. She went into the college as an adult and a non-traditional student, and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2011 and master’s degree in 2016 in adolescent education and history. She is currently enrolled in the college’s educational leadership program.

“The history department at (SUNY) Cortland is incredible,” Goodwin said.

Born and raised in the Cortland area, Goodwin “always loved history” since she was a kid.

“My dad is from England and he’s a huge history buff. Growing up, we’d always go to historic sites,” she said. “My mother was a history teacher (at Cortland High School) as well.”

A part of her family tree is connected to the history of SUNY Cortland. Her late grandfather, James F. Casey (a SUNY Cortland Class of 1953 graduate), is named after Casey Tower. Casey was the former director of housing at the college.

One thing that motivates Goodwin as a history teacher is taking historical topics and modernizing in today’s world.

“Right now, I really think it’s important for kids to be able to take skills from history and apply them to their lives today,” she said. “It’s great that you know Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863, but what’s more important is for the kids to be able to analyze a document related to that and corroborate sources. 

“(You would) be able to take historical thinking skills and use them to analyze media today, and ask ‘how would they be relevant today?’ It’s about trying to make this kind of American trajectory in history make sense today and what lessons can we learn (from it).”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Goodwin made it her goal to give her students more of a “social and emotional connection” through her teaching.

“I try really hard to make their lessons fun and interactive. My philosophy is that we’re all on a learning journey together,” Goodwin added.

Goodwin noted students, past and present, she has taught have been “fantastic.” She noted that teachers, especially history teachers, teach because they “love kids” and enjoy the opportunity to create “good humans.”

“They’re still excited to learn,” she said, noting their energy makes teaching “contagious.”

Caitlin Luzum, one of Goodwin’s former students, praised her former history teacher.

“Ms. Goodwin definitely made an impact on my learning,” Luzum said. “She’s definitely one of the teachers that made McGraw schools a memorable school to go to. She always made class fun and enjoyable. She’s one of those teachers that anyone would be happy to have.”

Aside from teaching, Goodwin is a member of the Central New York Council for Social Studies, a Ford’s Theater Master Oratory fellow, and has been recognized as a Lincoln Teacher Leader. She traveled to France with a student to study the D-Day campaign through Albert H. Small Normandy Institute.

“There’s a lot of history teachers who are really motivated to do stuff out there,” she said. “There are so many opportunities for us, and I think it’s one of the things that’s really helped me be such a good teacher. I’m always going and learning, and how to teach (history).”