by AndrewMc | 7/10/2008 10:07:00 PM
Friday the 11th--known around the world as 7-11 Day--is my last day of teaching for this summer in my Teaching American History (TAH) grant. This is the first year of my third TAH grant, in which I serve as "content expert." This is a lofty term for someone who supposedly knows something about colonial and revolutionary America, and who teaches it to them during the summer Institutes. In the first grant, we had a mix of 5th, 8th, and 11th grade US history teachers. That was a disaster, as the content we brought to them on any given day was automatically not relevant to 1/3 of the teachers.

The second grant was 8th grade teachers, which is the first half of US history. The group was a mix of coaches and "regular" teachers. Great people. We all learned alot.

This newest group is fifth grade teachers. They also teach the first half, so we're focusing on colonial, revolutionary, and Civil War-era America.

Before I got a PhD and began to teach college, I taught every grade, either as a full-time teacher or as a substitute. My favorites to teach? Kindergarten and grad students. They are the only two groups who are truly eager to be in school. Grad students taught me patience. Kindergartners taught me to make sure that everyone has the exact same number of pretzels.

What have my 5th and 8th grade teachers taught me?

One thing I've learned is that my 5th and 8th grade teachers don't give out homework. No point. Students won't do it, and parents won't make them. Teachers have other battles to fight and homework isn't one they can win.

One teacher gives her cell number out to her students for when she sends reading assignments home. Otherwise her kids can't get any help. Many of the kids' parents can't read.
Teaching kids to read is hard in parts of Kentucky.

About half the teachers spend a large part of their time with students reading the textbook in class. They don't like to do this, but there aren't enough textbooks for all the kids to take home to read. We prefer low taxes to educated kids in Kentucky. In any event, their parents won't make them read the textbook at home because frequently the parents can't read either.

Teachers I work with love history. They love to teach. They also get bogged down in utter BS. At one school teachers have to give an accounting of how many tater tots they ate at lunch. If they get lunch in the cafeteria, it has to be in the same portions given to the kids of the grade they teach. So, 5th grade teachers get 5th grade portions.
That's 4 tater tots. No more. No less. They get one packet of ketchup. In other schools teachers cannot wear tennis shoes. It looks unprofessional. If they have a medical excuse, they must wear tennis shoes everyday. Or face disciplinary action. I am not joking.

Ed Schools do nothing but sap the life out of potential teachers. They should be abolished.

The federal government wants an accounting of how effective the TAH money is. This is understandable. To do this we test the teachers on content at the beginning and end of each 2-week Institute. Some do well, others do not. On the other hand, every one of my teachers has seen their kids' standardized test scores rise. Of 20 teachers in the last grant, 8 teachers' scores are now the top scores in their district. The federal government could care less about how well the kids are doing on standardized test scores. We send the data on test scores and they tell us they don't read it. They want to know if the teachers do well on the tests. So, we give them a 30-question pre-test, and and identical post-test, and make sure we cover the answers in between. I'm more concerned with kids than with D.C. bean-counters.

American history is fun, and teachers work very very hard to make it fun. Disney ruins it.

Elementary teachers in most states don't have to major in the subject they teach. As a result, they don't know much more than what's in their 5th grade textbook, or what their major was. So, a social studies teacher might have majored in geography. Or Latin.

You cannot show any part of a PG movie to 5th or 8th graders, even if the 10-second clip has no nudity, no foul language, and no violence. If you want to show a 10-second clip with no nudity, violence, or foul language, you have to send permission slips home.

Course material and handouts can discuss any kinds of violence, from the mildest of slaps, to the grossest of brutality. You can show pictures in handouts of the most heinous acts of violence. There can be no discussion of sex. Whatsoever.

8th graders give and receive blowjobs in classrooms, libraries, and stairwells. Kids don't need permission slips for this.

Teachers on TAH field trips [we've taken them to Williamsburg, Philly, and other places] think that professors have never heard of the game "quarters." That was instructive.

Teachers are incredibly enthusiastic about teaching their subject. When we suggest that they get a substitute teacher--which we will pay for--for a day so we can hold a seminar, they say "no." They don't want to be away from their classrooms.

Teachers spend alot of their own money on supplies in order to make activities for their classrooms. Their schools don't have money. We prefer low taxes.

Teachers love using primary sources in the classroom. They absolutely get the idea that teaching with primary sources gets kids involved. Primary sources are available on the Internet, and we learn how to find them.

In some schools, only the science teachers are allowed to use the computer lab. After all, why would a social studies teacher needs computers?

There are rap songs that outline the whole of American History. My teachers taught me that.

5th and 8th grade kids identify with Barney Fife not remembering the preamble to the US Constitution. And they still think he's funny. I bet my undergrads will get that, too. My teachers taught me that.

Finally, 5th grade teachers seem far more liberal than 8th grade teachers. Maybe this is because many of the 8th grade teachers were sports coaches? More males teaching 8th grade? Age difference? I dunno. But my 5th grade teachers ask me if it is appropriate to compare the way potential settlers were lied to about the supposedly wonderful conditions in colonial Virginia with the way that the Bush administration lied us into the War in Iraq.

I like my 5th grade teachers.