After three years of waiting through COVID delays and international fear, I finally visited Colonial Williamsburg, participating in the rich instruction of the professionals there during this summer’s teacher institute. I cannot begin to express my appreciation to you and to others who make this experience possible for teachers who do not always have the means to travel for the deep training that Colonial Williamsburg offers.
I want to make sure that you understand, my experience, on location and in living color, will not be wasted! I fully expect to refer to it often as I teach others, both formally in classrooms and informally as I train other educators.
Our week began with a day at Historic Jametowne and Jamestown Settlement, where we were introduced to 17th Century Indian life. I gained a new appreciation for the complexity of the situation and the multiple levels of conflict. It really must have been a juggling act to keep the peace between so many entities and levels of society at the same time. Can I relay that message to 10-year-olds in a classroom? Can I help my teaching peers and daily acquaintances understand the concepts I learned at Jamestown? I hope so.
Days spent on the sidewalks of the historic streets of Williamsburg helped me appreciate the multi-faceted features of history. No longer must we only learn about the founders, but now more than ever, we must also listen for the minority voices - the enslaved workers and the struggling, lower-class, the everyday subject/citizen trying to eke out a living from nothing but blook, sweat, and muscle. While the motivators of change were yelling at each other in the courthouse, the taverns, and the governor’s palace, the parent on the street must have experienced a range of helpless emotions all at once. We all know, today, that our voices are small amidst noise of the media and political machines, but have we really progressed far from the 18th Century counterparts. While I still wonder how to pay for a daughter entering college, this year, those people must have been frightened for their lives and lifestyles. Is is appropriate that we should pause and pay tribute to their ways of life and use their hardships and perseverance to bolster our own places in the world? Might the citizens of Historic Williamsburg motivate me to be a better person? I certainly pray that they will.
As we had the opportunities to meet people from history, Nanny Jones, Robert Carter, and George Wythe stand out. The first-person interpretations brought to life these mostly-unsung heroes of history. Their presentations during our session of the teacher institute were flawless only because they were not presented as flawless people. That is, each of the figures portrayed had his or her warts and made mistakes. To still make the connections these interpreters offer is remarkable. I left with a sob-filled understanding that Nanny Jones was a strong, independent woman. I also learned that, though many in the founding era believed that slavery was morally wrong, Robert Carter emancipated more slaves than anyone, and George Wythe freed his own slaves - not waiting to do so in his will, but doing so in his lifetime. Are their lessons for today’s children and adults to learn by reaching into the past? I know they are.
To be recruited to participate in dramatic interpretations more than once during the week was a true honor. Delivering Patrick Henry’s lines in the courthouse was certainly a highlight, and presenting my own speech in the classic debate of Patriot versus Loyalist was truly a delight. I thrived in those moments.
Our group made it to Yorktown, where lightning pinned us inside our shuttle bus and did not allow us to wander the battle locations or surrender field as we would have liked. I liken it to Cornwallis being pinned in by Washington’s army and French ships on the shore of that grand river. Neither of us were in control, whether in the 18th Century or the 21st. Neither of us had the luxury of movement as the sparks flew around us. As we pondered the enormous pressures placed upon both sides in that decisive battle, I could not help but think the raindrops sliding down our bus windows were as heavy as the tears that many shed in those days so long ago. Can I possibly tell that story and get students to empathize with both sides? Is it possible to have them apply the same skills of empathy on the playground or in modern life? I am confident it is.
I also completely enjoyed the camaraderie of collaborating with teachers from across the country. This was really a group that exhibited mutual respect for one another, and I found myself comfortable with many of them. I know we will continue to feed each other as we move forward in our professional lives. Additionally, the staff and leadership from Colonial Williamsburg were welcoming and more than willing to answer questions and lend assistance.
Mrs. Kimball, I am not a person who writes a quick thank-you to check a task off of a to-do list and to make myself feel like I have done my moral duty. If you regularly provide funding for educators to participate in activities like the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, I hope this is the most thorough letter of appreciation you have ever received. I think it is important for you to know the impact of your generous gift and how it will be applied. The words are simple to say - Thank You - but the sentiment I have attempted to communicate in these paragraphs goes much deeper.
Hopefully, I will be allowed to return to the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute in the future, perhaps to serve in more of a leadership role with new participants. If not, I still know that I am far from finished with American history and helping students realize how we got here. May God bless us all, in spite of our missteps and bruises.
I wanted to write more than a thank-you to the benefactors who made it possible for me to attend the 2022 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute. I thought it was important to be more specific about what I gained from the experience.
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