Benjamin D. Alvord is a 7th and 8th grade history teacher in the Tooele County School District and a Hope Street Group/NNSTOY Utah Teacher Fellow.
“We’re still here,” the answer of the Native American speaking to us in front of the fire in the nush wetu (long house) when asked what was the one thing he wanted us to teach our children about the Wampanoag people; that and “tell the truth.” This was perhaps the most impactful moment in a week filled with mind blowing moments. As teachers we often say that teaching is a calling or we are driven to teach, The Larry H. Miller Group and Zions bank sponsor a program in Utah that celebrates that notion for history teachers.
In 2007, inspired by a conversation with Author David McCulloch, Miller founded the Driven 2 Teach program. This program takes Utah history teachers out of the classroom and to the important historical sites around the country. “Travel There to Teach it Here” the tagline on the website says. It sounded interesting so I signed up. A week after school ended I was on a plane to Boston for the experience of a lifetime.
The time I spent on this trip was the most inspirational professional development I have ever been a part of. The field study I chose was the “Founding Fathers” study which toured sites from Boston to Philadelphia with a concentration on the American Revolution. Being in Boston where the actions that would launch our nation began felt special. Sharing this expereince with 28 other history teachers and two Brigham Young University professors as tour guide was amazing.
Jeff Nokes and Jay Buckley were a fountain of knowledge throughout the trip, not just about historical facts but they provided suggestion on how we could bring our experiences back into the classroom.
Yes history teachers are going to love spending a week touring historical sites, but that may leave the question of how does this impact the students. Going back to the story from the Wampanoag Village, it was not just one of the Native Americans that said that but all 3 that I spoke to said the same thing. These people want to tell their story, they are in a place right next to the recreation of the Plimoth Colony which cause so much strife to the ancestors to make sure their side of the story gets told. As the new school year begins I will be reaching out to the Native Americans in my area and inviting them to speak to my students. The experience of being there was great and it will help me in times say when talking about the Battle of Bunker Hill to have been standing there on Breed’s Hill and staring towards Boston imagining what Captain Prescott was feeling as the British troops advanced up the hill, but the real takeaway for me was the people I met everywhere and their passion for the stories they relayed. Aside from the Wampanoag Village there were the reenactors at Plimoth Colony who never broke character even when talking to each other, the tour guides and park rangers at the historic sights who were experts on their subjects, and the reenactors at City Tavern and Independence Hall who not only had their parts down but ad libbed answers to our questions with passion and knowledge. It is these professionals that have inspired me to find the same passion that they have, despite talking about the same subject every day, in my classroom as I share information with my students.
The experiential learning I was a part of thanks to the Driven 2 Teach program is something that will forever alter the way in which I teach history. I will strive to bring as much experiential learning into my classroom as possible and see if I can change my history students into historians.