Planning TAH Courses
Planning a Course
We do courses, thirty-hour courses, for the high school teachers [that] meet after school and on some Saturdays. And, the teachers can either receive "P-credit," professional credit, towards their next salary differential or they receive a stipend for their work, and of course they produce a product, which is a good thing. And in the second History in the Classroom we've started sort of chronologically with our course and it was conflict, continuity, and change, which was right in the beginning; and the most recent course, which we're in right now, is the Civil War and Reconstruction—actually the Crisis of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
And the way we do it is we hire usually an historian that is about to get his or her doctorate, so they're young and they're very interested in spreading their wings. So that comes—actually a lesson learned—that comes with good points and points that you have to grapple with a little bit. The best thing is they will take—usually—direction so we come out with a product that we really want. You have to do very careful planning upfront.
So how it usually works is I design the course over a period of time, so I'm writing this course really without the historian, and I'm thinking about what is already written in the grant that says that we're going to accomplish; and I'm also, since I'm from New York, thinking about the New York state regions, which I have taught for many years myself, so I like to hit sort of a balance where we're getting some really interesting history that perhaps the teachers might be unfamiliar with, some more cutting edge sort of history, and then of course I want the history they're going to need for the assessment, that the youngsters are going to need to graduate from high school.
Forming a Team
The other lesson that I have learned is that you have to really build a cohesive team. So I'm writing the course before I've met the team, so to speak. So once we hire the historian, and I work with our museum or cultural partners, and I work with a person that is in our grant that is called the "historian in residence," and the educator, whom I represent.
And the historian in residence is really an interesting role. She is a young doctoral student also, and she actually advertises the position through her connections with the various universities, so we can find—and she decides—she calls the various resumes and decides who might be the best candidates to teach this course. And then of course we interview along with the project director and the historian in residence and so on to find the best person; and, quite frankly, I’ve learned over time, you have to just cut to the chase and tell them exactly what it is that you're looking for—exactly how the course works, because the course is actually co-taught between the historian and the educator. And that we have to be on the same wavelength.
And I think the other thing that I have learned over the period of, I guess, five years is the ability to build teacher capacity; and I believe you do that by building a great community of teachers. Normally our courses are between 26 and 30 high school teachers, and many of them are social studies teachers. Some are special ed. teachers. Some are English language learning—learners [are] their focus. So, really to know who your teachers are. Some of them are what we call SINI schools, who are schools in need of improvement. I would say one-third of the teachers come from schools in need of improvement, but I know a lot of the Manhattan schools, and many of them work with underprepared students whether they are from schools in need of improvement or not classified as such.
So, I think it's important to build a community of learners, so I always make certain that the teachers are able to communicate with one another by email, and I work a lot in group sort of activities during the class to make certain that they get to interact with people that they don't know. And, it tends that teachers, once I sort of hook them in, they come for other courses, which is great.
And sometimes you get to know over a period of time what people’s strengths are, so I have learned to tap into those teachers and sometimes I give them a portion. They see where they could fit in in a particular course. I like to give the teachers an opportunity to become leaders—to be able to shine in front of their colleagues, and I find that the community of teachers that we have or the community of learners that we have, they're so supportive of one another. It’s really terrific to watch.
So careful planning and building a good team that you will know we're all together on this; we have the same goal. And the idea of allowing the teachers to become leaders, allowing them to show how they can shine and teach their colleagues.