By George Ledbetter
Selection as the 2022 Outstanding Teacher for the Third District by the Nebraska State Council for the Social Studies is the latest recognition Chadron State College graduate Michael Sandstrom has received in his career as a secondary school educator.
A history teacher at Chadron High School, Sandstrom was surprised when he received the award in his classroom in early October from the council’s co-president Katrina Gotschall.
“I was a little embarrassed,” he said. “The students were generally excited and very kind in their praise.”
Sandstrom earned a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from CSC in 2012 and a master’s in History Education in 2019. A Chadron native, he taught history at a high school in Colorado before taking the position at Chadron High.
In 2019, Sandstrom was selected as Nebraska History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He received History Nebraska’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2021 and was a finalist for the Nebraska Department of Education Teacher of the Year award.
“I loved my time in the Chadron State College social science department,” said Sandstrom. “Almost every professor made a large impact on my development. They provided me with the foundation for every single success I have had as a teacher. They all demonstrated a huge dedication to their subject matter and, above all, competence.”
The teaching methods that have helped Sandstrom receive recognition include use of primary sources to connect students with the history of their community. He also emphasizes the use of local resources to make national issues students study in class relevant to their daily lives.
Research in the Dawes County Museum archives about Depression-era government policies, for instance, provided a way for Sandstrom to show students how President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs led to major improvements of the facilities at Chadron State Park. Two articles he wrote about the subject were published in the Nebraska History Magazine in 2021.
The history of the U.S. Constitution is another focus of Sandstrom’s teaching, and a subject he believes is important no matter what political beliefs a person holds.
“You cannot understand your own position on our political systems without understanding the foundations and history of the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “I believe you need to understand how we started to understand how you can properly affect change in our system.”
Constitutional studies have also created professional development opportunities. In 2015, Sandstrom received a James Madison Memorial Foundation fellowship, a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored award that helps outstanding secondary school teachers further their education into subjects related to the Constitution. From 2017 to 2019, Sandstrom was among a small group of secondary school teachers from across the country selected for the Teachers Council of the Virginia-based Bill of Rights Institute (BRI). He was again selected for the council this year.
BRI Council membership includes monthly meetings with other teachers and projects that expand knowledge and introduce new teaching tools, Sandstrom said.
“The council exposes me to different ideas and approaches. I gain a lot from my fellow teachers around the country,” he said.
Inspired by his teachers in Chadron, Sandstrom said he decided while still in high school to pursue a career in social science education.
“Those subjects always spoke to me,” he said. “Understanding how and why humans act the way they do always interested me. And teaching high school students is rewarding, because they have a degree of maturity, but still need the influence of adults. I find it a tremendous challenge, but one that is overall enjoyable,” said Sandstrom.