Westlake teacher honored at inauguration for creative cross country history lessons


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Westlake High School teacher was honored at Wednesday’s presidential inauguration.

Cathy Cluck, an AP U.S. history teacher, was invited to participate in the virtual parade beginning at 2:15 p.m. She has recorded remarks with the professional help of the Joe Biden team, which highlights the work she did in the fall, traveling to more than a half dozen historical landmarks across the continental United States as virtual lessons for her students.

“In July when I realized we would start the school year remotely, I took the opportunity to take off and teach history from places where it happened,” Cluck said in her broadcasted message. “The students would tune in every and just sort of see what my background was for that day, and it was a way for them really see that history is still important, it still matters, it’s not just in the pages of a textbook.”

Cluck expressed extreme gratitude for the opportunity and laughed as she considered her three-week adventure, a journey which she jokingly remarked was not especially “thought-out.”

“It was an opportunity to take kids in my class on a ride with me that I wouldn’t have been able to do normally,” Cluck said.

Unhindered by a need to be physically in the classroom due to the pandemic, Cluck hit the road, traveling from Austin, Texas to Williamsburg, Virginia, Jamestown, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Weehawken, New Jersey, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Memphis, Tennessee and finally Little Rock, Arkansas. She stopped at monuments, battlefields and memorials, including the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

“I just was trying to think of a way to connect with kids in a pandemic year with remote teaching that I wouldn’t be able to in a normal year,” Cluck said.

Her students tell KXAN they appreciated the hands-on approach, saying the lessons impacted their learning and allowed them to get to know their teacher better, something they admit was particularly difficult during those first weeks of remote instruction.

“She just made coming to U.S. History enjoyable for everyone,” said Westlake Junior Devin Dickey. “It was something I looked forward to every day.”

Cluck says a few weeks ago, she received an email asking if she would participate in Biden’s virtual parade. After a quick Google search to verify the email’s authenticity (Cluck says she didn’t believe it was real), members of Biden’s team visited Austin to help her record a message, which was broadcast on Wednesday.

“Americans have more in common than what divides us. That was one thing that I learned and took away from [my trip],” Cluck said.

Her students say Cluck deserves this honor. They say she’s helped them both understand the past and grasp the importance of what’s happening in the present — from impeachments to insurrections to inaugurations.

“She is the only history teacher I’ve ever had that gives us insight on what is happening in the real world,” Westlake Junior Dylan Scott said. “We are living in such impactful history lessons right now.”

Cluck agreed, saying Wednesday could be a turning point in American history.

“I want to make sure that they understand the moment and how unique it is,” Cluck said.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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