This week I am posting a five-part blog series about why I teach. Here is the third part, and for those that have not read part 1 yet, I will begin again with what inspired this series.
Earlier this semester my district had a random Monday in September for a Professional Development day. A Google Innovator was brought in from out of state to talk about ways to make more effective use of Google Classroom. That part of her presentation was great and since that day I have made much use of what she presented, however, it was a completely different part of her presentation that has stuck with me the most. At the beginning of the day she had us write down 5 things we love about our job on 5 different note cards. I have carried those note cards with me daily ever since. As I have continually reflected on what I wrote that morning I have come to a much deeper realization of why I love my career. To further reflect upon this I want to talk about what I wrote on each of these cards in a blog post each day this week.
Upon the third notecard I wrote:
I love getting to see students build thinking skills they will use for their lifetimes.
I have written about what makes teaching rewarding and what makes it fun, today I am going to write about why teaching and, in my view, teaching history is such a necessity in our world.
My teaching vision or mission statement has finally come into focus this year. After several years of being in the classroom day in and day out I am now able to capture why I do this and what I hope to achieve in a single statement, and it is intertwined completely with what I have written on this third notecard. I teach to create lifelong learners as an effort to contribute to a more informed and engaged citizenry by emphasizing historical thinking skills while also seeking to create a meaningful connection with students. I explored, at length, meaningful connections with students in the initial post of this series, so my time here will be spent on the first part of my educational vision.
Watch the evening news. Read a newspaper. Watch a late night talk show. Scroll through social media posts. If you were to do any, or all, of these activities right now you would witness firsthand a particular crisis point we are currently facing as a nation. This crisis point is one consisting of a dearth of critical thinking skills. Even many of those in perceived positions of authority and with the ability to disseminate information are too engaged in partisan or bunker politics to present an informed reasoned argument. Instead of apprising the masses they are stimulating their ideological base. They promulgate what furthers the cause and suppress the rest. It is within this backdrop that I am seeking to send informed, engaged, lifelong learning citizens into the populace.
I endeavor to propel students to this level of citizenry because it is the one cure for the predicament at hand. As more people become engaged in the process and are able to wade through the mess to arrive at a learned conclusion we will finally get past the current political and societal quagmire plaguing our country. I spend my energy doing what I do to help move us towards this point at whatever capacity I can, no matter how large or small. The experiences of my classroom alone will not provide a quick fix but they might provide a spark to eventually aide in igniting the flame of change. That is why this is so vital to me.
How do I seek to send students out of my class to be these citizens? I spend my time focused on historical thinking skills. I want them to understand the context of what they may read, but also the text itself, and any subtext contained therein. I want them to be able to identify and understand lines of causation. I want them to be able to articulate how things have changed over time and what has stayed the same. I want them to be able to recognize bias and point of view and author’s purpose, and to explain how those are affecting a work to others. In short, I want them to be able to think critically.
I teach history because I have been in love with historical facts, figures, and dates since 3rd grade. My third grade teacher had a classroom library filled with biographies of Presidents. That teacher moved to 4th grade with my class and during my time in her room I probably read each of those biographies at least three times. I read histories for fun in my free time. I love history. Most students will never the same about my beloved content area, much less to the extent I do. I wish they did, but statistically most never will. I realize this. I also realize that in today’s digital age most of this information can be found in a matter of seconds. So getting them to just learn info is not the key to my classes. Getting them to learn how to handle the historical information is the key.
I have students do history instead of just learning about it, or at least this is my goal. I assign inquiry based projects so they have to learn how to apply each of the skills mentioned above. I try to structure these projects so the skills continue to build upon and reinforce each other. It is my goal that by focusing on these various historical skills students learn how to think. I want them to learn how to process information and how to truly understand the world as engaged and informed citizens rather than mindless robots regurgitating the preferred soundbites from their chosen or circumstance assigned side.