Interview with American Battlefield Trust's 2004 Teacher of the Year: Bob Rinehart

The Trust talks to, long time volunteer and 2004 Teacher of the Year, Bob Rinehart, about what it means to teach and preserve

Recently, the American Battlefield Trust had a conversation with Bob Rinehart, a teacher at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air, Maryland, to touch base about his experiences with the American Battlefield Trust, personally and professionally.

The American Battlefield Trust honored Rinehart with its Teacher of the Year Award in 2004. Since then, he has also won the Trust’s Chairman’s Award and the Gilder/Lehrman Maryland Teacher of the Year Award.

Rinehart has been actively involved with the Trust since he began volunteering with them in 2004 for the Teacher’s Institute and the annual members’ conferences. He discussed how the Trust impacted his life for the better.

Read the full interview, edited lightly for clarity and continuity, below.

How did you get involved in the history field?

Bob: I received my bachelor's degree at York College of Pennsylvania and received my master’s degree at Loyola College of Maryland.  Before attending college, I worked eight years in mass communication and television production for Cable-4-York.  I have been teaching for 25 years - two years at Edgewood Middle School (Edgewood, MD) and twenty-three years at Southampton Middle School (Bel Air, MD).

I got into teaching because I absolutely love history.  My family gave me opportunities to go to historic locations such as Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. (as well as historic sites in and around York, PA).  As a child, I read history books and was encouraged to watch historic movies that were on television. 

I have volunteered for the American Battlefield Trust since 2004 for both the summer Teacher’s Institute and the annual conference for members. I am engaged to be married, and we have five children ranging from 14 – 22 years of age.

What got you interested in teaching in the first place?

My social studies teachers in middle and high school were excellent.  They were able to take my already-existing love of history and teach me new historic material and perspectives. 

One of my seventh-grade social studies teachers was talking about saving the whales when I was in her class.  I never thought about preserving something that I thought would be on this planet forever.  Since that time, I have been very involved in historic preservation - from artifacts that remind me of my upbringing, to community activities in my home town while working for Cable-4 in York, to Civil War battlefields.  

In addition, my eleventh-grade social studies teacher was a Civil War reenactor and he taught a campsite lesson outside to us, in full uniform in 1982.

What’s your particular passion for the Civil War?

When I was much younger, my passion focused on the weapons, leaders and battles of the American Civil War. I have enjoyed learning about all of those areas, and I do want to learn more about each one of them. However, as I have gotten older, my passion for the American Civil War focuses on the “everyday” people who were part of the era. The stories that are available about these people who were male or female, older or younger, combatants or non-combatants, free or enslaved, Caucasian, African American, Asian, European, Native American, etc. make up the stories that are the fabric that is the History of the American Civil War.

Do you have a favorite personal memory related to the Civil War?

My favorite American Civil War memories today relate to the times we have traveled as a family to historic sites around the country. Everyone in my family has a passion for American history, and we feel that it is extremely important for all of us to take the time to learn the history of our nation. Several years ago, we traveled to Arizona for a family vacation. On one of the days, we drove from Phoenix to Picacho Peak to explore the history of the battle and the area. The road trip gave us the opportunity to view so much of the region, explore local history and talk about the significance of the region in American Civil War history.  For us, American Civil War History is a magnet which pulls us into various areas and allows us to explore its history and experience so many unexpected historical locations and events.

As part of our travels, we have volunteered for several Park Days at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Why is learning about the Civil War important for students today?

We need to focus on the “everyday” people who were part of the era. Within these stories, students can connect to elements that aren’t part of any classroom, county or statewide test. It is these elements that individual students find interesting, that take them on an educational exploration which will enhance their quest for more knowledge of the American Civil War. Once the students begin on this journey, they gain perspectives about how the United States divided itself and can subsequently apply this knowledge to our current daily experiences, so we do not repeat history.

How easy/hard is it to teach Civil War history in today’s educational environment? Why?

Currently, I have faced little to no pushback while teaching the American Civil War.  In my classroom, we approach the American Civil War as history that cannot be changed. We must analyze, interpret and question all aspects of this era and not fall into the glorification of the era and war.

Finally, new perspectives each year from my students are expected and I would be disappointed if we did not have some discussions concerning the “hot topics” of our history.

Many critics of today’s educational system say, “Teachers aren’t teaching history anymore!” How do you respond to that?

According to Merriam-Webster a “critic” is defined as, “one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique.” My question is this: how many “critics” of educators teaching history have ever been a classroom teacher of students of any age?

Do these “critics” understand that educators continue to tweak their curriculums every year so that new knowledge can be made available for our students?

Do these “critics” understand that educators are faced with an ever-expanding timeline of new history each day, month and year?

Do these “critics understand that educators are faced with curriculum challenges that are led by local, state and federal mandates?

The concept of teaching history can be approached in so many ways today in the classrooms of the United States of America. Teachers have access to resources that range from textbooks, photocopied materials and primary sources, to computers and the Internet. No matter how we approach the teaching of history, it is up to the students of America to want to read, research, review and discuss the information so they can take ownership of the history.

What are some of the things you do in your classes to teach the Civil War?

When I became a teacher, I relied on the American Civil War history of my family to inspire the students to begin preserving and learning about the American Civil War battlefields. My Great-Great Grandfather fought for the 130th Pennsylvania at South Mountain and Antietam. Through my family history, I have been able to bring the “everyday” person perspective to my students.

Since then, I have engaged students with the use of American Battlefield Trust materials on line: In4 videos, Battlefield Apps, Website Articles, Biographies and Timelines.

I also rely on group presentations: Each year of the war is a group. They focus of Union Commanders, Confederate Commanders, Key Battles, Women of the Era and Major Events.

We also have our annual field trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park, which includes:

  • A 1 ½ hour “everyday” person walking tour led by myself – Leister farm to Grant Monument to High Water Mark to the Bryan property to the Maryland Monument.
  • Gettysburg Battlefield App from the American Battlefield Trust
  • Visitor Center Movie – Cyclorama
  • Group Scavenger Hunt of the Visitor Center Galleries
  • 2-hour Licensed Battlefield Tour of Battlefield

The Civil War Trust expanded its mission to now include the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. How do those content areas tie into what you do?

Both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 are part of our course study in the eighth grade. We use several resources from the American Battlefield Trust to expand upon our lessons. These resources include the Revolutionary War In4 videos and the overview and articles pertaining to both the American Revolution and War of 1812.

How has the American Battlefield Trust supported you in the classroom?

The support of the American Battlefield Trust has been tremendous.

To help my students in the classroom, I use the American Battlefield Trust’s Field Trip Fund, Traveling Trunk and guest speakers. We also use battlefield apps, as well as online resources, such as In4 videos, war department videos, articles, biographies and timelines.

The Teacher’s Institute has allowed me the opportunities to explore so many historic locations in our country. Each year the Trust engages the attendees with lectures, demonstrations, open forums, presentations and field trips which encourage teachers to learn more on the subject matter. It has my pleasure to attend, volunteer and present at the annual Teacher’s Institute. 

How has being named “Teacher of the Year” by the Trust helped you?  Since being named “Teacher of the Year,” have you completed any new projects with your students, or are you in the process of completing any special projects?

After being named Teacher of the Year in 2004, I was able to encourage my students and administration at Southampton Middle School to advocate for the preservation of America’s Civil War Battlefields.

Through our student-driven preservation project(s), we were able to begin fund-raising efforts, create informational presentations, host an American Civil War Day and go on our annual field trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Since 2003, we have been able to raise approximately $34,000.00 for the preservation of American Civil War Battlefields. With leverage (matching grants that approximately totaled - $330,426.00 ) we were able to open up additional money for battlefield preservation.

We also sponsor an American Civil War Day at Southampton Middle School, which includes Civil War Trust guest speakers, student projects and presentations, Southampton chorus and Southampton orchestra. We also feature student artwork, musical guests, American Civil War era living historians and local history groups.