We steal from the future when we rob our children of history. When our nation’s founding principals are blurred, so is our vision of the future. I aspire to return history to elementary schools where context helps teachers give muscle to our founding documents. My fourth graders hunger for the incredible stories of our nation’s founding era. I am happy to dust off a history that has too often been relegated to secondary and collegiate courses. It is my job and my pleasure to reveal and apply those stories earlier in their educational lives.
George Washington is an active, relevant member of our classroom. We welcome him to sit around our table and discuss current events from varying points of view. Hailing mostly from lower middle class or impoverished families, my students (and other classes, periodically invited to join ours), appreciate the opportunity to wrestle with Washington and his contemporaries, mull over their “radical” ideas, and debate over freedoms and rights. They rigorously approach the Revolutionary struggle and wonder at the sacrifices of Patriots.
Washington’s courage and wisdom smacks of the difficult lessons he learned at a young age. Students are encouraged to discover that he made costly mistakes and still developed as a great, successful leader. Undeniably documented by primary sources, Washington is one of those great visionaries who resisted oppression, forged a free country, and gifted us with unprecedented rights and freedoms, but when I display images of the Necessary at Mount Vernon, students realize that, yes, even George Washington had to relieve himself. It helps bring this hero from the pedestal to a human level where we can better relate to him.
As historians, my students collaboratively struggle with material and process. They actively engage in the civilized discussions and disagreements conducted in class. They draw conclusions based on physical and inferential evidence. They respectfully dig into difficult topics and successfully unearth innovative solutions. They gather information, learn from failure, and actively build systems to serve future generations. Identifying mistakes and responses from the past, students equip themselves to face genuine issues and influence the future. They can do so, because it has been done before!
Washington influenced uneasy times. Amid confusion and extraordinary events, Washington’s strength and demeanor exhibited leadership and decision-making abilities. He weighed risks, led boldly, calmed rooms, and sought civility and decency. I aspire to be that resolute peacekeeper for stakeholders in our school, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same. When my peers curiously spy into our window, freely click on my website, or observe my class directly, they find us time traveling – encountering real, stimulating situations, artifacts, and images. I thrive when I openly and professionally share my experiences and expertise – through conversations, observations, and formal or electronic presentations – locally and at the state level. At day’s end, I rejoin my family, under my own vine and fig tree, enjoying the satisfying fatigue resulting from empowering children with real mettle for success and encouraging others to do likewise.
The application for the 2019 round of the George Washington Teacher Institute are due in mid-January. That required the applying teacher to give some personal information, as well as write a personal 500-word essay. As a member of the alumni from the GWTI, I am also asked to write an additional essay concerning how the institute has influenced my classroom.
The first, personal essay follows:
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