HELENA - Great Falls Teacher Eric Chaon was recognized as the 33rd winner of the Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award — which honors the 2021-2022 Montana History Teacher of the Year — at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
Chaon and his students ring the Centennial Bell to help celebrate Montana's belated birthday, which was on Election Day this year, and for all the teacher's accomplishments.
"Yeah, it's certainly rewarding to have your colleagues recognize you and write letters of support for you," said Chaon. "I think the most rewarding part was that a student wrote a letter of support for you. You write a lot of letters of recommendation for kids as a teacher. So to get one from a student and read it and see their perspectives was just encouraging to keep working hard as a teacher."
That support, Chaon says, pushes him to be the best teacher he can be.
"I would say it's rewarding to have, you know, students who recognize and are thankful to have you as a teacher. And then also it's kind of inspiring too, you know, make sure you keep working hard and doing a good job in the classroom and so all of those things certainly rewarding," said Chaon.
Chosen by a panel of Montana history advocates from submissions by the teacher's peers and students,
Great Falls Principal Geoff Habel wasn't surprised by who was awarded history teacher of the year.
"He is a great teacher. He does all the things that you would ask of a teacher to meet the needs of all the students, not just the college-bound students, but the students that are just going to go right into the workforce. He meets them where they're at. He knows the strategies," said Habel.
Being a graduate of Great Falls High School in 2006, Chaon returned to his alma mater in 2011 and has been a history teacher at the high school since 2013.
He told MTN News that he couldn't be more thankful for the support.
"Just thankful for all the people that, you know, put time and effort into this and thankful for the students that I have and leadership that we've got in great falls and all the people that care about Montana history and preserving it and moving forward," said Chaon.
Chaon received a plaque and $4,500 from three sponsors: the Montana Television Network, the Montana History Foundation, and the Sons & Daughters of Montana Pioneers. Other partners are the Montana Historical Society and the 1889 Coffee House in Helena.
Additional gifts of $100 in gold Sacajawea coins from Judy Wohlfrom of Woodland, Calif., are given to the student who writes the letter of support for the winning teacher.
Another gold Sacajawea Dollar is given from Mike Collins, president of the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers, and his wife Connie, to each student who accompanies the winning teacher to the Helena awards ceremony.