Valerie Baalerud, a history teacher at Eagle River High School in Anchorage, starts every class by writing a quote from a historical figure on the board. Students copy it down, research the person and context, and then share their interpretations with the class. Baalerud treats her students like historians, demanding rigorous thought and analysis, emphasizing primary source texts and historical photographs, and helping them connect the dots between historical events and current approaches to geopolitical issues. Her AP World History students end the year by defending their top 10 events in world history and creating 1920s-style radio shows. Baalerud goes out of her way to infuse character education into her curriculum, harnessing students’ curiosity, exposing them to different points of view and challenging them to advocate for their beliefs.
In addition to AP World History—the first AP-level class open to Eagle River’s sophomores—Baalerud teaches several regular history classes, which include students hand-placed by the school’s counselors and special education teachers. Baalerud is known to work tirelessly to ensure the success of all students, even the neediest. Her AP World students score at the national average on the AP exam, and Baalerud’s overall student failure rate is zero. The chair of the history department, Baalerud has coached Model United Nations, flag football and track; led the school’s celebration of National History Day; and advised Eagle River’s student government. She also coaches the Drama, Debate and Forensics (DDF) club and produces some of the most competitive debaters in the district. Seniors chose Baalerud to give their graduation address in just her third year of teaching.
Baalerud is involved in curriculum development for both the building and the district; peers often consult her when planning lessons and adopting innovative teaching strategies. When she became concerned about the influence of social media and technology on teenagers’ communication and cognitive development, Baalerud led a professional learning community to explore the research; the district is using her input to create a policy on student use of cell phones. She is an outspoken advocate for fair budgeting for public education, a trait that appears to run in the family—her oldest daughter currently sits on the Anchorage School District school board as its student advisor.
Baalerud earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2011 from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"I am inspired by the teachers who do more than just teach. My role models are those reaching out and changing lives beyond the..." (read more)