An article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education last week is still making its rounds on social media. “Changing Your Teaching Takes More Than a Recipe” 🔒 is also circulating under the subtitle “Professors Have Been Urged to Adopt More-Effective Teaching Practices. Why Are Their Results So Mixed?”Continue reading “Learning How to Teach: Beyond Recipes”
Quick Update on Credentials
This is a very minor announcement, but it feels more important because it took so long during the pandemic. Some seven months after I applied—which was just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and shut down agency offices—the New Jersey Department of Education has finally issued me a certificate of eligibility in social studies (CE 2300). This is a content-area endorsement for prospective public school teachers that covers not only history but also anthropology, economics, geography, government, political science, and sociology.
This is not a teaching certification, as that term is usually understood; it’s more like an authorization to begin working toward a teaching certification. (By itself, it represents little more than state affirmation of academic credentials I already had.) For now, nothing about my career as a college instructor has changed.
Still, I’m very happy to be able, finally, to add this to the inventory.
Image: New Jersey State Normal School, Montclair, N.J., 1912. New Jersey State Library, Digital Jerseyana Collection, Montclair Postcards. Public domain.
How Did You Learn to Tell Stories in the Classroom?
This semester marks seven years since I taught the first college course of “my own”—being solely responsible for writing the syllabus, choosing all the readings, designing all the assignments, and planning all the lectures and activities. I was hired at the last minute. On the first day of class, I didn’t even have password access to the classroom computer yet. The bookstore was still selling my students books that somebody else had chosen, which I didn’t intend to use and didn’t have copies of anyway. I don’t think my university email address had been activated.
I’m not absolutely sure, though, because at this point, I barely remember anything about that semester except a general feeling of panic.
What I do know is that one of my biggest challenges was simply learning to narrate history in the classroom. This was crucial because—in a single-semester U.S. history survey course—my students wouldn’t have a traditional textbook to carry that burden outside of class. (And The American Yawp had yet to be written.) The course’s narrative of U.S. history, all of it, both in the overall course arc and in each topic we covered, had to subsist in whatever I could accomplish in the classroom or through short readings scavenged from different sources and posted online.
I had a fair amount of teaching experience, but almost nothing of that nature. I had never been a gifted storyteller in person. (Not even close!) And to my recollection, despite a fair amount of pedagogical development in graduate school, I had never been provided with any specific instruction or advice relevant to this situation.
That first course … probably wasn’t great.
Even if my last-minute hiring made the need unusually acute, I don’t think my situation then was unique. I can’t speak as much to the experiences of primary- or secondary-level educators, but my sense is that in college, many people trained to teach history (or trained in the many other academic disciplines that also teach historical topics) never get any training in the basic task of building a historical narrative in the classroom until they show up in their own classroom for the first time.
But I want to check whether my intuition is right.
If you’re willing to leave a generous comment on this post (or email me if you need to communicate privately), I’d like to know what your experiences have been as a teacher (primary, secondary, college, university, whatever)—in history or any other field where the need comes up.
- Did you have any formal training in how to build a historical narrative in the classroom?
- Is this a problem you’re still trying to solve for yourself?
- Have you found any instruction books, online courses, etc., helpful?
- What aspects of storytelling or narrative-focused course organization have been the most challenging for you?
- If you are a naturally gifted storyteller, have you faced any challenges bringing this skill into an academic setting?
Image: Detail from Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, The Storyteller, 1770s. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.