Transforming the TAH Program into a Model for Teacher Training
Since the initiation of the Teaching American History (TAH) grant program in 2001, I have been fortunate enough to work as a lead/master teacher in 14 different states. Under the aegis of the National Council for History Education and the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, I served as a lead teacher on over 20 different TAH grants and worked with many wonderful K12 history teachers. My role in each of these grants has been to connect the content presented by academic historians with the current research on history education and provide teachers practical applications that can be utilized in their classrooms.
The occasions to share lessons on Nat Turner's rebellion, Lowell Mills, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Pullman Strike, civil liberties in World War I, post-World War II suburbanization, and numerous other topics have placed me in contact with a diverse group of K12 educators and forced me to consider many of the underlying assumptions and realities related to generating change in history instruction.
In every grant, I have witnessed firsthand teachers enjoying the opportunity to read, discuss, and examine the personalities, events, and ideas of the past. Participants soak up stories shared by historians, lead teachers, and other educational specialists. Their enthusiasm for professional development that is content-based and directly connected to instruction, rather than one that is simply methodological, has been uniform across the grants in which I have participated.
What TAH has accomplished is fostering connections between the major practitioners of history education: K12 teachers, academic historians and popular historians, education specialists, and public historians. The power of the grants has been to make these varied constituencies realize that the commonalities that bind them are deeper than those that are perceived to separate.
Within this new consciousness lies the potential for fundamentally altering how we train prospective teachers of history and the nascent legacy of the TAH program. The greatest lesson I have learned, that has yet to be fully embraced by the TAH program, is the need to alter the role historians play in the development of K12 history teachers.
Unfortunately, the short-term dividends to be paid from this tremendous infusion of federal money into history education will be diluted or destroyed unless the TAH grants focus on sustainability and structural reform throughout the entire teacher training infrastructure, rather than simply expansion of content knowledge and pedagogy. The current grant sends intensive amounts of money to deepen the instructional talents and content knowledge of current teachers. Spending money on the current generation of teachers will most likely reap benefits for these teachers and by extension their students. As more teachers are exposed to deeper content, a plethora of instructional resources, and practical applications of the research on history education, we should see an increase in the historical understanding of students. Nevertheless, deep and sustainable reform must be institutionalized.
I have been lucky to work in my own home state with a history department that has long recognized the benefits of working with K12 history teachers. In 1997, the history department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, formed the Center for History Education. This partnership between the Maryland Council for History Education and a collegiate history department has generated contact with hundreds of history teachers in Maryland. The relationship has facilitated the development of TAH program models and specialized graduate courses. It has also generated discussions about the potential role that the department could play in better preparing undergraduate history majors considering a career as a classroom teacher.
This process has been heartening, and the TAH program tapped into a preexisting initiative, slowly propelling it forward. To truly generate lasting change, the TAH program must build within future RFPs a mechanism to provide incentives for collegiate history departments to play a larger role in the development of future K12 history teachers. Historians' roles in the apprenticeship of future teachers can promote the lasting change wrought by the TAH grants.
As evidenced in The Next Generation of History Teachers: A Challenge to Departments of History at American Colleges and Universities, the primary, and perhaps most emulated instructors of history are found in history departments. "Historians in higher education," the report posits, "might educate, in more purposeful and effective ways, the future teachers among their own students."
This permanency could be achieved by adding to the TAH evaluation measurement requirement to include a focus on historians. Have historians' attitudes towards instruction and K12 history instruction changed? Have historians recalibrated instruction in their classroom to better assist students considering a career in pre-collegiate education? Currently, measurement of TAH effectiveness has only focused on one constituency: teacher participants. Why not measure how the interactions have impacted historians?
In addition, lasting change could be rewarded by structuring the TAH application to include points for grants that fund history departments to create courses that institutionalize the training of pre-service history teachers or promote interdepartmental cooperation between departments of education and history. By working with pre-service teachers, historians can communicate the tools, questions, attitudes, and content necessary to be employed when exploring questions about the past.
These strategies, born of the current body of research about history education and through exposure to the K12 world via participation in TAH Grants, will enable historians to transfer the connectivity born by the TAH program to future teachers. Recasting the role of historians in the growth of "The Next Generation" of history teachers will cement the legacy of the TAH program. It is this important point, fostering changes in how we prepare the next generation of history teachers, that the TAH program could engrave its most lasting legacy. Unfortunately, this role is under-recognized and remains untilled ground for future TAH grants to fertilize.
My opportunities to work with teachers under the auspices of the TAH program have been wonderful—teachers are receptive and their training prior to this program necessitates such intensive reforms. As another added benefit, under the current structure, historians are exposed to the K12 environment via TAH grants. Kudos aside, without growing a new generation of historians who recognize their role in training the next generation of K12 history teachers, the TAH program will go the way of the New Social Studies and other reforms: fondly remembered, but not an enduring part of the culture of teacher training and history instruction.