Three-time College of Education graduate named History Teacher of the Year, leads oral history projects

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A three-time Auburn University alumnus led his students on journeys through U.S. history that earned him a nomination for National History Teacher of the Year.

Blake Busbin, the Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher at Auburn High School, recently wrapped up a three-year oral history project that features scores of student interviews with military veterans from East Alabama and West Georgia.

In addition to a project website, many of the recordings are housed in the Library of Congress. The interviews covered World War II to the present War on Terror, with a primary focus on Vietnam vets.

For his innovative work in Project Based Learning, or PBL, Busbin was named the 2017 Alabama History Teacher of the Year by the History Channel and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He is one of 10 finalists for the institute’s National History Teacher of the Year award.

One of Busbin’s close collaborators was College of Education Professor Jim Witte, who served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.

"The opportunity to participate in this project was extraordinary," Witte said. "It is rare to learn historical perspectives from actual participants. One thing the students saw was the degree to which wartime experience is personalized. Blake has shown the discipline of the historian and the skill of the artist in capturing the essence of the Vietnam experience."

With the veteran’s project complete, Busbin is preparing to lead his students on a new three-year undertaking.

"With everything that’s going on in the country right now, we decided to focus our next oral history project on the civil rights movement as it took place right here in East Alabama," Busbin said. "I encourage my students to embrace the idea of ‘doing history for the public good.’ Our veteran’s project certainly did that and I am excited about our new venture."

The new project will kick off with a road trip. The class will visit civil rights hotspots in Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, and Jackson, Mississippi.

"A real highlight will be a reserved dinner and lecture for us at the STAX Records Museum of Soul Music in Memphis," Busbin said. "STAX had a groundbreaking sound that seamlessly blended black and white soul musicians in public for the first time. I can’t wait for our students to experience that."

The first year will focus on education in East Alabama during the Civil Rights period, year two will look at effects on public spaces and the final year will examine how political power changed during that time.

All three of Busbin’s degrees came from the College of Education in the social science education program. Following his undergraduate degree, he won a Madison Fellowship which funded his master’s.

During this period, he was recruited as an emergency substitute at Auburn High School and has been there ever since. He taught American Government before switching over to U.S. history, which he calls "America on a sprinter’s pace" since it covers so much material in a limited period of time.

"I knew I wanted to get into something more substantial and incorporate PBL, which led to the veteran’s project," he said. "It has been very rewarding."

Busbin recently won a grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation for the civil rights project. He said it was the most rigorous writing he has undertaken since his dissertation, which focused on student collective decision-making about controversial issues in online and face-to-face settings.

Busbin’s primary professors at Auburn were Jada Kohlmeier and John Saye, who inspired in him a desire to teach his students to "do history for the public good."

"Blake was an exceptional student at every degree level," said Kohlmeier. "He is committed to analyzing a complex topic from multiple perspectives and has an ability to scaffold a student-focused lesson that requires students to investigate, debate and decide the issue."

Saye said in addition to his classroom work, Busbin continues to serve Auburn and the College of Education and is an "invaluable" colleague.

"In addition to mentoring our undergraduate and graduate students, he has joined us as a teacher leader in several outreach projects by sharing his expertise with teachers in other school districts in Alabama and Georgia," Saye said.

Being a great teacher is about more than mastering subject knowledge, according to Busbin.

"Teachers must possess a servant’s heart for those placed under their direction," he said. "I really learned this in my studies in the College of Education, and am proud to be able to carry the flame forward. This sense of compassion for students is the foundation to success in the classroom."

For more information on the veteran oral history project, go to

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Founded in 1915, the Auburn University College of Education enrolls 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students. Four academic units offer 60 degree options in teaching, special education, educational leadership, kinesiology, counseling, adult education, educational technology and educational psychology. The College is committed to diversity and inclusion and maintains a focus on outstanding teaching, consequential research and solution-oriented outreach in order to fulfill its mission of making a better world for all, including those most in need.