In another couple of hours, the Marriott’s main ballroom will fill with nearly 200 teachers from across the U.S. They’ve assembled here in Raleigh, North Carolina, to participate in the 2019 National Teacher Institute sponsored by the American Battlefield Trust. For the next two days, they’ll attend workshops and listen to presentations about a wide range of historical topics and pedagogical approaches; on Saturday, they’ll disburse on field trips that concentrate on the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and Civil Rights.
In the meantime, the ballroom waits, cavern-like, to fill up. Round tables, each set for ten, topped with notepads and pens, sit vacant. The platform at the front of the room hunkers expectantly in anticipation of the cavalcade of speakers it will later host. The A/V guy is taping down cables and adjusting the focus on the projector.
Emerging Civil War is well represented at this year’s Teacher Institute (the “T.I.” as organizers affectionately call it). Dan Davis, who works in the Trust’s education department, will present on the Revolutionary War’s Southern Campaign and, on Saturday, co-lead a tour of the Bentonville battlefield. Bert Dunkerly, Phill Greenwalt, Derek Maxfield and I will all be here to present. We’re part of a line-up of twenty-six presenters set to offer more than twenty-five programs and tours over the next three days.
The most significant presence, though—really, the driving force behind the Teacher Institute—is ECW co-founder Kris White, the Trust’s education manager. He’s been working for more than a year to pull this year’s TI together. Even before last year’s event was underway in Valley Forge, PA, he had begun to work on this one. Likewise, he’s already begun to work on next year’s. (You can check out dispatches from last year’s event here.)
“This is all free to the teachers,” he told me as we prepared to stuff goodie bags yesterday. “They just have to get themselves here.” Donors, sponsors, and other funding sources support the T.I. as a way to promote the effective teaching of history.
The goodie bags—canvas tote bags perfect for carrying books—get stuffed with the obligatory pen and notebook, a jump drive with all the presenters’ notes on it, several maps, the latest issue of the Trust’s magazine Hallowed Ground, a rain poncho rolled up into a plastic ball that looks like a round Christmas ornament, and other Trust-branded swag. These are the fun tangibles registrants will collect when they sign in Thursday morning, although the real benefits of the T.I. will come from the presenters. Teachers can also qualify for continuing education credits through Virginia Tech, although specifics vary from state to state.
For that same reason, different teachers will get different takeaways from each program in the T.I.’s line-up. Thirty-five states are represented at this year’s T.I., and each state has its own standards and methods of assessment. “We realize that not everything we present will work in every classroom,” Kris said. “But if we can give them tools and skills they can adapt for their own use, to match their own interests, they can get a lot out of this.”
For anyone who has lamented, “They don’t teach history in the schools any more,” this collection of educators will certainly prove them wrong. Based on my experience last year, I know T.I. attendees to be passionate, interested, and committed. I left last year’s event inspired about the future, knowing the magnitude of the impact one excellent teacher can have on literally generations of students. (Check out this post from last year for more on that particular lament, too–you’ll be surprised!)
This year, I’ll be listening in over the next few days and live-blogging about some of the cool stuff I hear. That way, you can be with us here in Raleigh, too (at least in spirit!). I hope, too, that you’ll find a little inspiration and hope about the future of history education—just as I have.