Peter Merrill Honored for Outstanding Service to Russian Language Education

Early last week, Peter Merrill, Instructor in Russian and German, received a Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to Russian language education by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR).

Merrill, who has been on the board of the ACTR since 1995, helped create national standards for High School Russian education, such as the development of the Russian Advanced Placement exam.

In December 2012, the ACTR invited Merrill to attend the February gathering where he was honored with the award. He was not informed of the award until the day of the event, however.

“Surprise and gratitude are probably the words to describe my first reactions. These kinds of commitments, especially when you’re already in a full time job, end up taking a lot of time, so it was nice to be recognized for what I did,” said Merrill.

“In the last five years, we haven’t seen [an award] of this significance. This is pretty big. We’re talking about a lifetime achievement award,” said Peter Neissa, Head of the World Languages Department.

Founded in 1974, the ACTR is dedicated to improving the teaching of Russian through conferences, programs and publications, according to the ACTR website.

Merrill said that the ACTR was needed to structure the curriculum and to prepare students for the next level.

“These organizations give teachers a voice and a means to communicate, at least indirectly, with college teachers to get what they need to know about helping kids integrate into college, or what needs to be changed in terms of curriculum,” he said.

Since his arrival at Andover in 1989, Merrill has made significant contributions to the Russian Department.

“He has worked to help the understanding of Russian politics in the United States to high school students, not just [at] PA. He came to us with a huge wealth of information background. Students who have gone through Russian have benefited from his expertise,” said Neissa.

“Merrill understands where students should be going to in our current time. What does a global perspective mean? Does it mean learning about another history course or does it mean integrating knowledge, culture and art into courses like English, History and Russian? All that has to be integrated so a student comes out with a huge perspective of the world, not just confined to a single country, which is exactly what [Merrill] recognizes,” continued Neissa.

Merrill’s path to becoming an instructor at Andover started when he was a Junior at Phillips Exeter Academy. His best friend’s father, former Dean of Faculty at Exeter, convinced him to take Russian.

Merrill went on to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Russian Language and Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master’s degree in Linguistics and a PhD in Slavic Languages from UCLA.

Merrill taught at the University of Maryland for seven years before coming to Andover after being denied tenure.

“In retrospect, it was possibly the best thing that could’ve happened to me. This decision pushed me out of the college environment and into an environment where teaching was more interesting than at the college level, my colleagues here are a lot better to work with. It’s just been a better environment to work in,” said Merrill.

Merrill said that the work he does for ACTR is different from what he and other teachers do at Andover

“The kinds of things I do [at ACTR] would be even harder if I didn’t have interesting colleagues and interesting students to go back to and try things out with and talk things over with. The context in which people work has a large influence on how they are able to work beyond the immediate needs of the job, and Andover has been a pretty good place for that to happen,” said Merrill.

Merrill has also received the 1995 “Excellence in Teaching at the Secondary Level” award from the American Association of Slavic and East European Languages.

Merrill has spoken at numerous conferences, including one last year that hosted over 50 schools from around the world.

At Andover, Merrill is a house counselor in Fuess, manages the instructional fencing program and coordinates the Global Perspectives group, where he oversees and helps coordinate some of the school’s global initiatives.