History teacher Robert Sandler won the George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching from Williams College on Friday, March 10. He was nominated by former student, Aglaia Ho (’13), who was in Sandler’s AP United States History and New York City History classes.
The Olmsted Prize is awarded every year to four high school teachers during Williams’ “Ivy Exercises,” an award ceremony Williams holds annually. Every year, Williams seniors are given the opportunity to nominate a teacher that played an influential role in their education and lives for the award. Seniors who decide to participate have to submit an essay explaining the impact their teacher made on them.
Teachers are then notified of their nomination and are asked to submit an essay explaining their teaching philosophies and provide examples of exemplary student projects.
In his essay, Sandler wrote about the various activities he uses to engage students. “I conduct walking tours, have a lot of guest speakers, and use simulations with historical figures,” Sandler said in an e-mail interview. He also explained how he attempts to incorporate music and art into his lessons.
Williams also requested recommendation letters from colleagues or supervisors.“I had to get recommendations from [Assistant Principal of Social Studies Jennifer] Suri, the principal [Eric] Contreras, and James Basker, the President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History,” Sandler said.
“I thought he had a really great chance [of winning] because he’s such a great teacher. I know [his] students are very enthusiastic and many of his students still keep in touch with him and have written letters to him about the impact that he had on their lives and careers,” Suri said.
After applications were submitted, a committee of faculty, staff, and Williams juniors chose four winners who would each be given $3000 and an additional $5000 would be awarded to their schools.
Williams will cover the cost of the trip to the award ceremony on Saturday, June 3, for the recipients and their families, along with the honorary degree recipients. Attendees will go to a luncheon with both the Olmsted committee and the student nominators and their families. Afterwards, at the Class Day “Ivy Exercises,” the dean of Williams will present each recipient and the student that nominated them.
Sandler is looking forward to the award ceremony. “I have never been to the Berkshires and I think it will be really fun to meet my old student and her family at the ceremony,” Sandler said.
This isn’t the first time that Sandler has won an award for his teaching. In 2013, he won the National Council for the Social Studies National Teacher of the Year Award and an award through the 9/11 Tribute Center for creating a curriculum unit on 9/11. In 2014, he was awarded the New York State History Teacher of the Year Award presented by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, after being nominated by his former student, Mitchell Teper (’15).
Senior Prangon Ghose, who was in Sandler’s Jewish History class and is now in his New York City History class, believes that a part of what makes Sandler deserving of the award is that he inspires his students to learn more about topics beyond what is taught in class. “It is not always that one has a teacher like Mr. Sandler. I think he truly cares for the students he teaches and strives to provide better learning opportunities for them outside of the classroom,” Ghose said in an e-mail interview. “Mr. Sandler truly deserves this award and he serves as a strong example to teachers around the country that they can make important changes in a student’s life that makes him [or] her a better person. Awards like the Olmsted Award are important to impress upon our society that teaching is an [influential] profession.”
Sandler plans on spending the $5000 given to the social studies department from this award to buy books, films, and to go on field trips with his elective classes. He hopes that winning this award will help change the common public perception of teachers. “It will be a small step in counteracting negative stereotypes about teachers,” Sandler said. “I love my job and respect my colleagues intensely. There are so many hardworking teachers that stay [until] 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. and work all weekend. They all deserve recognition.”