Many of you know that this past fall term I taught an undergraduate course called History Pedagogy. So many of my students have headed off to graduate school in the past and found themselves thrust into classrooms without any pedagogical training. After years of hearing stories about their experiences, I decided to get them started on thinking about teaching myself.
This past fall I had twelve incredible students in the class whose interests ranged from elementary school to college to educating in a museum setting. They were all historians, however, and they all wanted to think about how they might teach history well.
I could not have asked for better partners in reflecting on historical skill-building. The students had a wealth of experiences being taught history by others; I encouraged them to think critically about those experiences, and discern which exercises, approaches, or assignments seemed to help them grow and which did not. We consistently returned to issues of equity in the classroom – to making universal design a centerpiece of their planning; asking how certain topics and approaches would resonate with all students, from all cultural backgrounds (and, conversely, where approaches might fail and why). I offered up my own experiences too, and we analyzed the ways I was taught to teach in graduate school, or what I was like as an early-career teacher, and what has changed for me and why.We didn’t have formal assignments through the term – instead there were lots of small questions for them to consider and write about, and a lot of peer review. At the end of the term we all spent a considerable amount of time in reflection, asking each other questions about what we had learned, and each student putting together a portfolio of all their work prefaced by a reflective piece of writing. They were a joy to read.
I can’t wait to teach this class again. As with anything we teach that we love, there was satisfaction in sharing my enthusiasm with the students, and listening as they shared theirs with me. But it was never a chore to be in that classroom; never a slog, even on days when we all recognized that we were tired and distracted by other things.
I’m grateful to the students in HIST 295Z for helping me become a better teacher alongside them.