By Joseph Fratena
Ahead of National Teacher Appreciation Week is next week (May 1-5) Penn-Harris-Madison Superintendent Dr. Jerry Thacker is announcing the winners of P-H-M’s Teacher of the Year. Today (Tuesday, April 25) with the help of his students, some Penn administrators, coaches, fellow teachers and staff, Dr. Thacker was able to surprise Penn High School AP History Teacher and Tennis Coach Eric Bowers with the news that he is P-H-M’s Secondary Teacher of the Year. Click to view the photo gallery below.
Coach Bowers is in his 20th year of teaching and all of those years have been teaching social studies at Penn High School, including doing his student teaching with P-H-M. For this school year, Bowers is teaching AP U.S. History and AP European History to more than 230 students over eight sections. Even though today’s surprise announcement disrupted one of his AP History classes, much to the students dismay, it did not postpone their final!
It was clear with today’s show of support, that Bowers is a beloved teacher and coach. He has been the Penn Boys and Girls Tennis coach his entire 20 years at Penn. As Coach, he’s won 26 Sectional Championships, 10 Regional Championships, had four Semi-state appearances, and coached one individual State Champion, Alexandra Brinker, in 2013. Coach Bowers was named the 2018 Indiana Boys Tennis Coach of the Year by the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association.
There aren’t too many teachers who can claim the prestige of being named a Fulbright Scholar, but Bowers can! He was named a Fulbright Scholar in 2017 out of more than 3,000 applicants. Just a handful of teaching faculty are awarded this once in a lifetime opportunity to research, study and teach in a country of their choice. Bowers chose to study at Regensburg University in Germany in the summer of 2017.
In March 2022, Bowers was selected to participate in the inaugural GenEd Teacher Fellowship Program sponsored by the Genocide Education Project (GenEd). Only 16 highly qualified secondary-level educators from 14 states were chosen for the program. In July 2022, the group participated in a 10 day intensive professional development program in Armenia. His work with the Genocide Project and sharing info about the Armenia Genocide with other history teachers at Penn and acros the country earned Bowers the opportunity to speak at the National Convention of Social Studies this year in Philadelphia. His work with the University of Pittsburgh enabled him to attend the European Union Conference held in Brussels, Belgium. Next summer, he will participate in the USS Midway Institute for Teachers in San Diego, which offers educational seminars specifically designed for history and social studies teachers so they can go more in depth about the Cold War, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and World War II in the Pacific.
Amy Tiebout, Penn science teacher, nominated Bowers for Secondary Teacher of the Year commented on the value these rich historical and academic experiences brings to his students, “Eric's travels around the world strengthens his ability to connect students to the content, as he has real-life experiences to add to the areas he teaches. He connects to such a wide range of students at Penn, including athletes, high ability academics, and everyone in between.”
Bowers has served as a teacher sponsor of a number of cocuricular activities and student clubs, including Model UN and Social Studies Academic Super Bowl both of which he’s coached since 2018. This school year he’s the teacher sponsor of the Muslim Student Association and the newly formed 180 Days Culture Club. The 180 days Culture Club features a monthly speaker, usually a student, who explains their family or native country culture to their classmates. Recently, a student with family in Ukraine impacted by the war presented to a packed room of fellow students.
But probably one of Bowers most favorite student history activity is “Pennstock,” which centers around American History of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Students can chose to perform onstage either in a musical performance or by writing and/or giving a speech. Past topics include “Support our Troops,” anti-Vietnam war, and Women’s Rights. Students who do not want to be onstage can instead set up a booth on such topics as the Space Race, American Indian Movement, or the Cold War. When the weather is nice, it’s held outside and is quite the scene as nearly the entire junior class, a quarter of the student population, is dressed in tie dye and other 60/70s attire.
Talking with Coach Bowers for five minutes it’s clear that he LOVES teaching, “Do what you can to not only promote your classroom but your school as well. I would encourage every teacher to find time to help with at least one club, group, sport, music, theater, or activity to better identify with their students,” says Bowers. “Teachers play a big role with [Penn High School] students from 8:25 - 3:17. The excitement of a student when a teacher helps out, volunteers, or even attends an event is priceless. If a teacher can’t be the head of the program, simply attending and congratulating student achievements works wonders in the lives of our students.”
It’s hard to believe that Bowers has any free time, but in his spare time he also serves as Penn’s Intramural Basketball Coordinator. An activity that he also enjoys thoroughly!
Mr. Robi Davidson, music teacher at Walt Disney Elementary School, was announced as P-H-M’s Elementary Teacher of the Year on Monday, April 24. P-H-M Employee of the Year will be announced in the coming days, also as a surprise. All TOY and EOY winners will be officially recognized at P-H-M’s Employee Recognition & Retiree Dinner on Wednesday, May 17th. The two Teachers of the Year will receive a grant from the P-H-M Education Foundation to use in their classroom. Both will go on to compete for Indiana’s Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in early Fall 2024 by the IDOE. Click here for more information.