Dear Students

This is what I want you to know:

  • I do not define you by the most common grade on your report card. 
  • I do have high expectations for you. You deserve nothing less. 
  • I want you to leave my class thinking it was a great class, not that I am a great teacher.
  • I hope that you are prepared for what life will throw at you, but I think it is more important that you be willing to figure out solutions to things you have not been prepared to do.
  • Your intellectual curiosity means a lot to me; ask questions, seek answers and ask more questions.
  • Our world is the way it is today because of decisions and actions by people in the past. At the same time, leave room for coincidence and serendipity in understanding history. 
  • History does not have a single narrative. Be open to everyone’s stories and realize that the dots do not always connect neatly. 
  • You should read – a lot – it helps you become a better thinker and a better writer.
  • The seemingly endless practice we do in writing and discussing issues matters. It takes hard work to communicate effectively – in writing and in person. However much the vehicles for communication may have changed the basic human social need has not. 
  • Details do matter, but they are significant in the service of allowing us to analyze the past.
  • Anecdotes from history are fun. We should indulge ourselves in what entertains us about the past as well as what informs us. 
  • The more you own your learning, the deeper that learning will be. 

The discipline of history is changing, for the better I believe. It is no longer efficient or effective (if it ever really was) to commit as much of the historical narrative to memory as possible. History is filled with interesting stories. Find them and then figure out why they matter. It is not important that every one of you learn the exact same body of content – you have more to learn from each other if you do not. That was always an illusion anyway. Each one of you brings a different body of experience to the classroom through which your learning filters. You will never all remember the same things because the content of history will connect with your lives differently. 

Every day I fight the urge to tell you what to think and what to do when you get stuck. I consciously try to balance modeling for you and letting you figure things out on your own. There is no happier moment for me in class than when a face lights up with newly gained insight. It is my mission to empower you with the confidence that you can learn what you want to and what you need to for a meaningful life in this world. That is a lofty mission, but it’s the one that matters most. 

I know that I push you out of your comfort zone. I realize that many of you long for me to tell you what you need to know. I can see frustration when it is harder and messier than you want it to be. I can feel the weariness in the room some days as you have tried to balance your many commitments with adequate rest and fallen short.

Learning is a journey. History is a wealth of stories that keep us in touch with our humanity and help us understand our world today. The classroom is a happy place for me – I found my passion in teaching and learning. I will give you my best. But ultimately, my class will be what you make of it. 

 

Inquiring Minds

Can you go back to teacher-centered lecture/discussion once you have introduced students to inquiry-based work, student-centered work? I am not sure.

I started class today by asking students what they know about JFK. Lots of kids contributed lots of ideas. I wrote them on the board. Every one of their answers could have used more discussion, explanation and analysis. 

Then, I blew it. I followed my logically constructed plan designed to illuminate the Kennedy family background, the religious issue, the 1960 campaign and foreign policy. We made our way through video and audio clips stopping to debrief after each one. With each new clip and mini-discussion, participation dropped and restlessness rose. Nobody was irreparably damaged and students probably learned some things but by the end we were all done. I let them go five minutes early thinking I was doing them a favor.

I am not sorry that I assembled the clips and the resources. I am sorry that I followed a scripted plan. I should have followed my opening question, “What do you know?” with “What do you want to know?” I could have shown the clips in any order. I could have allowed the class to evolve in whatever way it wanted. I could have even found other clips. I could have adjusted to the interest and the questions. I could have even allowed for some small group work on different questions. All of these “could haves” represent missed opportunities. 

I wish I had started with my own question, “How did the Kennedy clan fit into the larger themes of American History in the first part of the twentieth century?” and then turned the wheel over to the class. That is where I began in terms of content, but by framing it as my question, I could have modeled what I wanted the class to do. 

The Kennedys are far too interesting; students should have wanted to know more, not to be let out early. I have one more day with JFK this week before we turn our attention back to the research paper with peer review of rough drafts. I have a plan that includes political cartoons, Time Magazines, and reference articles. The question is – what will I do with it?