What I’ve Learned: Keeping History Class Creative

Educators may spend their careers preparing lessons, but often the most memorable are those they learn themselves.  With that in mind, NEA Today asked school staff –  everyone from classroom teachers and bus drivers to guidance counselors and school nurses – to share the everyday lessons they’ve picked up along the way in a series called “What I’ve Learned.”

What I’ve Learned: History Teacher Michael Hawthorne

High school history teacher Michael Hawthorne has taught in the Hartford School District in Hartford, Vermont, for 16 years.  Here are the lessons he’s learned on the job.

I’ve learned that not all students learn the same way. This may seem obvious, but as a teacher it can be easy to get into a routine, teaching the same way over and over. I try to use discussion, images, video, readings, and lots of technology to help my students understand topics. Some students need active discussions, some need to be physically active, and some need to be actively engaged by a narrative. Forcing every lesson into the same mold won’t work.

I’ve learned that half of what I know about teaching and what works with students is instinctual, and the other half is “stolen” from other good teachers. I observe other teachers’ classrooms to see how their teaching style and lessons work, and I’ve been able to team teach with some of the best teachers our district has to offer; some were veteran educators, others were very early in their careers. The common thread is the passion good teachers have for their subject and for their students.

I’ve learned history is not always found in a book or a lesson. Much of history needs to be discovered, and getting creative often helps the students discover their history in a more enjoyable way. While working on a local history project about our town, the students created 3D photo realistic buildings and loaded them on Google Earth for the world to see. After researching the buildings, and interviewing local historians about them, they discovered that each building has a unique story, and that those stories play integral parts in the larger history of our town.

I’ve learned that not everything I try in the classroom will work the way I envisioned — I need to listen to the students and be able to make changes on the fly. They are the most valuable resource we have as teachers.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is how fortunate I am to have a career in which students and colleagues become part of my family and help keep me energized and young. There is no job I would rather have.