Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Helping teachers help our students

July 18, 2011 by Bob Fenster


Editor's Note: Last week the National Constitution Center, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, conducted a week-long teacher workshop titled "A Revolution in Government: Philadelphia, American Independence and the Constitution."  This guest post was written by a participating teacher.

I'd heard the story of the ceremony surrounding the first peace-time transition of power before, about how John Adams offered to defer to George Washington in the procession's order, but Washington gracefully ceded the position of honor to the new president. But I'd never heard it while sitting in Congress Hall in the very location in which this historic moment occurred.

The Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop "A Revolution in Government: Philadelphia, American Independence and the Constitution, 1765-1791" had an incomparable home-field advantage, based in the National Constitution Center, just steps away from Independence Hall and so many of the other key locations of our nation's founding.

John Adams. Flickr image from cliff1066
The setting alone made it special, but it was far from the only rewarding aspect of the workshop. Far too many professional development opportunities for social studies teachers involve a parade of college professors waxing rhapsodic about historical minutiae, most likely related to whatever article or book they ar in the process of writing. In such workshops, teachers glean little to no useful information and gain few resources or tools to use in their classrooms.

From the outset of this program, the project team made clear its very tangible goal of creating dozens of well thought out, transferable lesson plans to be postd on its web site, free for any teacher to utilize.

Another source of inspiration came from my peers, a diverse group of forty educators representing two dozen states, urban, suburban, and rural districts, and elementary, middle, and high schools. Teaching can be an incredibly solitary profession as we spend so much time in our classrooms. Having this opportunity to talk to other teachers, collaborate and build a social network was extremely welcome.

We all gave up a week of our summer to visit Philadelphia in the middle of a heatwave because we share a common desire of improving ourselves as educators, increasing student learning, and inculcating a sense of civic duty in tomorrow's adult citizens. No one who teaches 180 days a year has a great lesson plan for every class, but we strive to replace the duds with effective lessons, to improve the good plans, and -- forgive me-- to make the great ones more perfect.

At every turn the workshop's staff offered to dig up resources to help make our jobs easier, serve as a sounding board for our ideas, and help focus our initial amorphous ideas into coherent, usable lessons. Their boundless enthusiasm never waned and their passion for our common goals helped make this workshop an incredibly rewarding experience that will have a profoud effect on my teaching for years to come. I can't wait to get started.

Bob Fenster is a teacher at Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough, New Jersey.


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