In the Midwestern state where I live, autumn blew in last week, unexpectedly after what we thought were endless warm days. For those of us who teach, autumn arrived a long time ago, in late August or September, regardless of the weather, in the moment we stepped back into the classroom.
It’s been more than a decade, but I still remember how excited I felt at the prospect of being a teaching assistant (TA) in graduate school. As a first year, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to be TAs yet – for our first year, we were supposed to take classes, read, and write. Incredibly exciting, but teaching – teaching seemed like the place to be. When I finally got into the classroom in my second year, it was amazing and scary.
My sense from six years of graduate school in history is that many graduate programs don’t do a good job of training grad students to be teachers. That’s obviously a generalization, and to be fair, the Teaching Center at my school tried. They offered workshops and strategies for getting feedback on your teaching. The professors for whom I TA’d always worked hard to train us on discussion strategies, and once or twice I got to lecture. I learned a lot about how to grade, and I learned a lot from being in the classroom, but it’s really been the last seven years where I’ve found the range of resources and support to help me
become a better teacher each year.
Each year when classes start again, it’s always exciting to think about how I’ll approach a topic in a new way, or try out a new technique. My school holds a conference each June focused on teaching, and the sessions there have been incredible resources. I’ve managed to take some online classes that helped with content and teaching strategies over the years, I have access to a library with an excellent range of professional development materials, and on top of that, watching my colleagues at work and sharing ideas with them has helped me think about teaching in a plethora of new ways.
Teaching is all about finding the strategies that are effective for you and your students at any given point in time. For the past couple of years, I was focused on how to teach research to students; since last year, I’ve also thought a lot about how to help students engage with reading nonfiction effectively. This year, though, my primary goal is to expand engagement in the classroom, particularly in student discussion.
Enter Spider Web Discussions.
Angela wrote a fantastic piece last week about finding your nonfiction writing voice. This week, I’m going to branch off from that a little to reflect on finding your teaching style, which I think has some connection – although certainly, teaching style varies by where you teach, what you teach, and who you teach.
Last week, I walked in the door for my eighth First Day of School at one of the places I love most in the world. Of course, Year 8 started long before then: it started a year ago, when my entire department began re-imagining our courses. It continued last spring as I teamed with a few colleagues to build our new 9th grade course and accelerated 10th grade course (aka honors). And of course, it certainly continued into the summer this year, as a full-on department redesign takes a good time commitment from all involved.
It’s been an exciting process, and this year, the redesign is where my creative energies have gone.
My turn! I’m excited to give you a peak into my home office this week; unlike Angela, I didn’t clean for you, but I’m just going to go with it. I’m a little attached to my piles right now.
This is the place where
magic creativity happens:
I loved reading about Angela’s summer-so-far and her summer plans. My summer-so-far hasn’t been as exciting in some ways (yet crazy in others), but it’s about to get there. For me, summer is a time to stop teaching, reflect on the teaching year I just had, prep for the next one, read a ton of books, and ideally, travel. In the seven years I’ve been in my job, I’ve only taught summer courses two or three times, and I think I’ve traveled every year except the summer of 2013 when I was on maternity leave.
That summer was also the only time I did zero work. In the years since, I’ve found that summer is a great time to put my creative energies into planning for the fall: my ideal the past couple of years has been to work in June and relax in July. I planned the same for this year. This is what the Summer of 2018 was supposed to look like:
- Take Kiddo to summer camp every day
- Use the camp hours (in June) to…
- Do a brief side-gig
- finish prepping logistics (assessments, standards, etc) for a new unit in a new course
- Prep lessons for the fall
- Clean my house, read books, write, etc., etc.
- Travel to England for a one-week seminar and a few days of extra sight-seeing (namely at the Imperial War Museum, for teaching purposes).
But best-laid plans and all that. About two weeks ago, the plan began unraveling. It’s not bad – it’s just different.
When the school year ends, I always feel a bit bereft. I love the academic cycle, the fresh starts each fall and again with each term (small commas, brief breaths in the sentence that is the year). I need summer, but summer and I need time to reconnect on new terms each year.
I feel that way now; classes ended Friday and we’ll wrap faculty meetings this Thursday before finishing with a conference early next week. It’s a slow segue to summer.
A few weeks ago, Raquelle wrote about leisure reading as self-care and shared some of the titles she’s reading. Her experience resonated with me: when I finished my dissertation seven years ago, I couldn’t wait to read again. In grad school, I read often, but I’d rarely had time to pick up a book for fun. (Example: I read the Hunger Games books while in grad school, but my head was so full of history books that by the time the last one came out, I couldn’t remember the others. I also read it so hurriedly that even now, I can’t tell you a thing about it.)
I got much better at reading for fun again after grad school, but in the past couple of years, I’ve slipped again. In the school year, I’m generally less likely to pick up a book on the weekend or before I go to sleep, often too exhausted to try. There are exceptions, like trimester and holiday breaks, or spring break, but my Goodreads profile tends to be less active in general than it was a few years ago.
Still, books are where I find myself and calm myself. They’re perfect for making the transition from teacher-on-the-go to teacher-at-rest.
Five weeks. Just five weeks from now, my students will pack up their bags, drop off their laptops at the Help Desk, and clear out from campus for other exciting adventures. A week later, I’ll have grades in and be sitting on the cusp of the promised land of summer.
If that sounds like I’m waiting for the next great thing, I promise I’m not. These next five weeks are full of many exciting new things, such as wrapping up my Atlantic World History course and Contemporary Global Issues research course (for the last time ever, as we’re changing curriculum next year). More than ever, my students are coming into their own as thinkers and writers, the culmination of a long year of hard work, and it’s exciting to see the pieces fall into place.
Sure, there are plenty of moments when I think everyone is ready to be done – our seniors walk out the door at the end of next week, and that always signals the beginning of the end, the feeling of “Oh, can’t WE have time for ourselves, too, please?”
Let’s not jump too far ahead, though. I look forward to summer because it gives me all that time for myself and for dreaming of the next course coming up, but also because summer gives me a chance to learn and be.
A lot of educators use the summer for professional development, but it’s also something many of us do year-round. Since the summer of 2011, my summer opportunities have included all sorts of fun things, like:
- Summer institute for new teachers
- AP US History teacher workshop
- Maternity leave
- Chaperone for DC trip (2 years in a row)
- NEH Forever Wild Workshop in the Adirondacks
- American Bar Association Great Cases program
- School trip to South Africa
It’s been fabulous, but that’s just been the start. I learned pretty early on that there are also a lot of options for professional development during the school year, if you can manage to swing it along with everything else. I haven’t done it every year, but every couple of years I somehow find myself trying something new, just for kicks and to fill in some of my knowledge gaps.
There are so many options out there. I’ve gathered some ideas below based on my own experiences, in case these ideas help others get started. If you have additional resources to share, add them to the comments!
National Consortium for Teaching about Asia
This is my top resource, hands-down, for anything you ever wanted to learn about Asian history. Asian history has never been my strong suit, but when you teach 20th Century World and World History in general, it’s amazing to have an organization like this around to help you out. Since I discovered the NCTA a few years ago, I’ve taken three online courses: Mao’s China, Japan since 1945, and China’s Dynasties (currently wrapping that up now). The instructors are amazing, the resources phenomenal – you can’t go wrong with anything here.
Virginia Geographic Alliance
While I don’t think the course is currently running, two years ago a colleague got me connected with Virginia Geographic Alliance’s “Putting Social Studies in its Place,” a 5-week online course that got me back into GIS (geographic information systems) for the first time since grad school (and working with ArcGIS in a way that didn’t make me crazy for the first time EVER). Last fall, I got to get more training with their follow-up course for those of us who’d done the first one. I’m still so much of a newbie when it comes to integrating GIS like I’d like to, but I’ve come huge distances thanks to the team here. (Now they’ve even got me thinking about how to design my own Geoinquiries like the ones here.)
Facebook group: Scholarships, Grants and Summer Institutes for Teachers
Teachers in the know KNOW this group. Want to find any sort of program? You’ll find it here, along with feedback from people who have done it, and occasionally people who pick the participants in any given program. This group is a great way to stay on top of opportunities as they arise throughout the year, in addition to the larger slate of summer PD opportunities that are out there.
Other programs that offer PD throughout the year:
- Ashbrook Seminars via Teaching American History
- Mount Vernon Professional Development programs
- National Geographic Educator Certification program
It’s just a start, but if you or someone you know is looking for future study opportunities like these (and they’re often free and/or funded) – check these out and share other ones you might know!