A shift in direction

I am really disappointed in myself. I have not been able to keep you posted about how my Civil War elective class went this year. I can, however, say there is a good reason for that. Aside from some family and health issues over the last year, the direction my teaching is going has kept me tied up and away from the blogosphere for the better part of the last ten months, especially since January.

I just finished my fourth year of teaching, three at Thompson Middle School in Quinlan, Texas. Of those three years, I taught Texas History for two years and spent the last year teaching U.S. History. I have also taught three electives: World Events (the first two years) and American Constitution & Civil War Studies and The Bible in History & Literature (this year).

Most of you who have read anything on this blog already know all of this, but my professional life took a recent shift back to my college major. The good news is I am excited to be returning to that area of expertise and have someone paying me to do it! I have spent most of the recent months preparing for a new teaching assignment — writing proposals and gathering information on the latest equipment for video production, as well as gathering curriculum materials. Starting next fall, I will return to my mass communication roots by teaching Public Speaking and Audio/Video Communication (better known as Intro to Mass Communication) at Thompson and Audio/Video Production (mostly video) at Ford High School in Quinlan!

While I am excited about it, I am also a little sad. I’ve enjoyed teaching history for the past three years. Before that, history was a hobby — I enjoyed studying it, especially topics related to the Civil War. While I am not a trained historian, I have tried to apply a careful inquiry to my study, the same inquiry I used as a small-town journalist seeking to inform my readers. When I began teaching, this became even more imperative because I wanted my students to be well-informed as well as accurately informed.

I was pretty green at this history education thing three years ago. My level of sophistication related to history was pretty shallow. When it came to the Civil War, I was pretty much, as I’ve seen Robert Moore put it, “dyed-in-the-gray.” I would probably have been considered “neo-Confederate.” I was a proponent of much of the Lost Cause myth. I watched as my previous notions of Civil War history were challenged as I began engaging Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory. I attended a week-long Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History course on the Civil War with Gary Gallagher at the University of Virginia in 2008, which led me to a deeper examination of serious scholarship from a variety of historians from James McPherson and David Blight to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., James Horton, and Eric Foner. I began to see myself transforming from a Confederate apologist into what I really don’t know, but a serious student of history tops the list of things I can see myself as now. Then came the fateful day when, after reading Victoria Bynum’s Renegade South blog (hat-tip to Kevin), I discovered my Unionist ancestors! That forced me to look at the war as more than just a pro-slavery vs. abolition, Union vs. Confederate idea. I had heard of Southern sympathizers, why not Northern ones? Of course, I was under the impression that that was some other group of Southerners, not any that could possibly be connected to me!

Over the past two years, I have followed a variety of blogs, off and on, but these are the ones I’ve followed regularly. Others you can find in my “Civil War Related Blogs” list to the right. I’ll even give credit to the Old Viginian, Richard Williams, for helping me keep my argument and debate skills sharp over this period of time.

Will I miss my focus on history for a more modern subject matter? Yes, but I also want to direct students to study history for a different viewpoint and using different tools. The current pedagogical arguement is that history is often presented in a very static format (books, articles, documentaries). My approach in teaching my mass media courses will be to teach all media, including new media (Internet and Web 2.0 applications), as ways that we can experience history, not just study it. I am the guy who has always considered my media experience as being history experience, except I produced it as it happened rather than at a later time. The larger answer to the question of will I miss it is: not as much as you might think given the recent changes to Texas’ history curriculum.

I am leaving active history education for a more passive approach. I plan to be involved with the local National History Day competition as an advisor on documentary entries. The high school history subject leader is working on an oral history project. He has recently sought my input on how to best archive that material and make it accessible to students and other researchers. I also plan to start a master’s program in instructional technology in the fall and begin helping teachers and students implement media into classroom learning as well as teaching media as a career path for students. I’ll post here from time to time and I’ll continue to be a fly in the ointment for the rest of you history bloggers!

One last thing before I go. This year I received the highest honor I could ever hope to receive as a history teacher. Two student, both of whom I was worried about their success on the state-mandated history assessment given their performance in class, brought me a gift to thank me for all I had done to help them out over the last two to three years. I had a unique experience as a teacher for the last three years. I coached my first year and taught a PE class that had most of the sixth grade in it. They moved up last year to seventh grade and I had most of them in Texas History. Then, I moved up with them to the eighth grade to teach U.S. History. So, many of these students have had to bear with me for three straight years! I’ve spent more time in the classroom with some of these kids than their parents have spent with them at home. That’s not a negative reflection on their parenting, just a fact of school scheduling. Combine that with teaching three electives over three years and a study hall period for two years and I’ve had some of these kids two or three times a day! Anyway, back to the gift. A photo of it is below. This is one of my most prized possession, not because it is expensive, but because it represents that these two students appreciate the interest in history they developed over the last two years, most of which has been in my classroom. They pooled their limited resources (and I do mean limited — well over 50 percent of the students in Quinlan are economically disadvantaged) to show their thanks and it has moved me to tears on several occassions in recent days. I value this gift more than my degree and certification. To me, regradless of test scores, it represents a successful year.

I’ve enjoyed this short run in history education. I’ll miss it, but, perhaps, to quote Gen. Douglas McArthur, “I shall return!”

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A recent gift from a couple of my students -- and one of my most prized possessions

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2 Responses to A shift in direction

  1. Thanks for the plug Greg. Best wishes to you in your new direction. The students who gave you the knife have great taste. ;o) One of my children gave me that same knife many years ago.

    Best,
    RW

    • You know me, I’ll still be “thorn in the flesh” for most of you guys who are continuing to blog history. I’m still working on a few things history related, but I’m already missing teaching history on a day-to-day basis and we’ve only been back in school two weeks! Perhaps, at some point, I may find time to include both my love of media and history in some sort of documentary program or short-form videos for YouTube.

      I’ll still post — I would like to share the work students are doing for NHD documentaries and how the oral history archive is doing.

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