For Teachers pt 2

Okay I’m back at it. Teachers, and really anybody else looking for more resources, I’ve started a page dedicated to books, websites, suggested readings, whatever…for you to utilize. A lot of the websites have teaching guides to really simplify your search. Look at the bar above, click on the resources link and enjoy!

Now for part two I said I was going to discuss historic sites, provide resources and tips on how to teach slavery across subjects. Cool. I am happy that the last post was well received. I know that sometimes people don’t want you to tell them how to do their job; and I am definitely not telling you how to do your job, but these tips do help retain said employment in a day full of litigation and hurt feelings. So thanks for all the love that you’ve shown so far.

Historic Sites
If you are so lucky to live and work in a location that has a historic site within field trip range that discusses slavery and you have FUNDING to take said field trip, you may want to go ahead and book that. Not only will the site appreciate the revenue, but someone else gets to do the teaching! Okay so some of that was sarcasm because the best way to prepare students for what they are going to see, hear, and experience is preparing them before you get on the buses to head out to the site. (Oh you didn’t think we don’t notice a group that talked about what they would learn in the classroom v. on the bus in the parking lot? HA!) If a site is worth it’s weight in gold, then they will have pre-trip and post-trip materials for the teachers to help them prep then review. If you’ve visited a site that doesn’t do it–make the suggestion. Most sites are looking for that feedback from teachers because we are educators too and if we’re not meeting the needs of your students, then we’re not doing our job. Say what you loved and then let us know what you’d like to see. Your reviews however that talk about how the interpreters/educators couldn’t control  your students because they were out of hand? Those don’t help us because we are looking at YOU  to reign in your class. Which brings me to the next point.

Historic Site Etiquette
CONTROL YOUR STUDENTS. Now to be fair, I didn’t experience a lot of groups with this problem, but that’s because I leveled with students early. Other interpreters were not so lucky some times. If you treat me with respect, I will treat you like an adult. For kids, being told they would be treated like an adult was kind of huge, so they gave me the attention I needed, and their teachers breathed easy. But it’s important that you lay down the law early on because usually interpreters have about 20 or 30 minutes to present their station. You’d be amazed at how fast that time can fly when you take into account getting students settled-presenting-doing any demonstration-Q&A. If we have to throw in calming  your students down? It takes out of the presentation/demo/q&a. With attention spans becoming smaller and smaller every year, that demo period is usually what your students will remember. The other thing about making sure you have a handle on your students also has to do with their safety and the safety of historic objects. The safety of the student is number one.

I’ll give you a few examples. If I’m cooking in the kitchen and the site is circa 1820, then you can bet I’m using fire. Fire is hot. Fires are  real (number 1 question…is that fire real?). And fire is dangerous. I have set my petticoat on fire before. I have stepped into a bed of hot coals before. It’s not fun. But in those instances I had students crowd around the fire although I requested again and again that they step back. Instead, I ended up in the hearth and I was not supposed to be on the menu that day. Make sure you know what’s going to happen and then make sure you relay that information to your students. We don’t like seeing them get hurt. Another example deals with live animals. There are some living history farms that have animals and they are a part of the lesson. Animals are real, most of them are NOT domesticated and they usually hate people. Fun fact: a pig can kill you. Rams like using their horns to “ram” up against gates, fences, etc. Chickens are the MEANEST animals I have ever encountered! Keeping hands, fingers, feet, knees and toes to yourself (kids are massively creative when it comes to the animals…whew!) will insure that the student goes back to school with those body parts. I’ll give you this though, lambs are pretty cool. Ewes that just gave birth though? Mean.

Artifacts at sites are also something you and your students need to be aware of. Kids like to touch everything. That’s human nature. But there are some times where keeping your hands to yourself will insure that that same piece of the collection will still look good when they grow up and bring their kids back. If there’s something being passed around and we’re saying it’s an actual period piece, then it’s been deaccessioned. We’re cool with you touching it. If it’s behind a rope, in a case, or just looks really fragile…assume that it’s original and if it’s touched by un-gloved human hands, it will crumble and you will be responsible for the loss of a 200 year old object. (heehee). Okay it may not crumble, but you don’t want to be the teacher/school that broke the first quill used by (insert historic figure here). Sites take accidents in stride in front of visitors, but when ya’ll go home we very well may have a funeral. We love you, we will give your students something to do, but we need your cooperation to make it safe, fun and effective.

Another note about historic sites: If you can over the summer, on a weekend, or special event or when you have a moment, visit the site before your field trip by yourself, or with a group of your coworkers if you like each other enough to hang out after school is over. Your familiarity with the site and comfort with the site will put your students at ease. Sure going to the same site every year can be boring for you (I’d have teachers who came to HB for the past 15-20 years and although the information changed, they IMMEDIATELY tuned out b/c they felt they’d been there enough). But getting to know the site and actually paying attention to your interpreter who may not be the same person you saw the year before, is important. And if the budget doesn’t allow your students to go on a field trip, think about bringing the site to you. Most sites I’ve looked at and worked with have Traveling Trunks that teachers can check out. These trunks will have the lessons and materials in them and in budget crunched times it can be cheaper than getting buses for 200 students. Something else you may want to look at is having the interpretive staff come to you. Sure I may not be able to start a fire but I can still show you some things. Look at all your options, look at what your sites are offering and if there’s something you’d like to see that matches your curriculum…ask the site if they can make it happen.

Teaching Across Subjects
So the slavery gone wrong lesson of the year last year belongs to the whole word problems fiasco can we all agree? At first glance, I couldn’t understand why slavery was being discussed in a math class and then I dug deeper and saw that they were trying to do this topic across various subjects. What a brilliant idea (no sarcasm there…I think it’s brilliant). What’s not brilliant is being so simpleminded that in terms of slavery the only thing you think about is slaves. Yes, they were the main component for without an enslaved human being, slavery has a hard time making a point. HOWEVER…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Slavery is an institution, and a very complex one. There are so many ways you can teach slavery across subjects. You’re looking for a math component? Look at the cost of cotton. If cotton is $1.25/lb and you have 3 bales at 500 lbs each, how much will you make? Math is not my strong point but you see what I’m getting at. There’s tobacco, sugar, rice, other cash crops like corn and wheat (because people have to eat). Dealing with weight and money gives you math. BOOM. If you want to talk about the laws of the land and government, you can talk about laws regarding manumission. After awhile, it was illegal to manumit (free) slaves. That’s something people don’t realize. Explaining what laws kicked in that made this so is bringing the discussion to government on local, state and federal levels. Looking at Abolitionist and Pro-Slavery arguments? The literary works of Phillis Wheatley? Really…there are options. And those options don’t involve you asking Fred how many lashes he got for not picking enough cotton.

So I hope that these couple of tips help…give clarity…provide understanding…do something that makes it a little bit easier for teachers to talk about slavery and enslaved men, women and children without losing their jobs or ending up on the news. I’ll be looking to see if we can go an academic year without an incident 🙂 but I really just wanted to help ease the burden of covering a heavy subject that a lot of people, educators or not, DON’T know how to handle or figure out the right things to say. The worst thing you can do is ignore the issue all together. As bad as the word problems were or the teacher who held an auction (sigh), it opened up a discussion on how to teach about slavery and determining what content is appropriate for what age. Questions? Comments? You know where to leave them.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. This is terrific and valuable information, Nicole. Thanks so much!

    Our “pet peeve” regarding school group etiquette on visits to the Royall House & Slave Quarters is the teachers who give their students work sheets to complete … during the tour! The guide is talking away … and the kids are talking among themselves about the assignment, often on a completely different subject from the main points we’re trying to make: “Do you see a candlestick?” while we’re explaining the extent of dairying on the property, etc. While we appreciate that teachers want to be sure their students are attentive to their surroundings, focusing that attention on trivia means they miss the important themes of the visit.

Leave a Reply to Gracelaw Simmons Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *