One of the appealing aspects of working in the public school system is frequent vacations (although they’re certainly not the main reason to become a teacher). Over the past week I have been out of school, but it hasn’t felt anything like a vacation. My daily schedule is somewhat less crazy than usual, but I have still been spending the majority of my time in the library, tucked away in one of the study rooms on the second floor (one of the career services staff asked if this was my new office). When we go back to school on Monday I will be taking on more classroom responsibilities, so I’ve been working all week trying to plan units and get a general idea for my lesson plans. The ambitious schedule I set for myself (one to two US History lessons per day, at least one Civics lesson, and working on a million other projects) crashed and burned the first day as I wound up spending many hours researching imperialism in East Asia to prepare for a lesson on Monday. Because I spent so much time hunting for sources and trying to think of ideas, I fell far behind my goals and never quite caught up. So, here I am on a Saturday frantically trying to plan a unit on supply and demand, research globalization and international trade issues, and think of exciting ways to teach my students about the Roaring Twenties. I’m sure I’ll be in okay shape next week, but this is just one more example of lesson planning not going quite as I had planned.
From a lesson on labor unions.
I love the challenge of trying to find ways to get my students to engage with historical ideas in ways that make them think deeply about the issues of the time and put themselves in the place of people who are too often just names on a test. I try to go beyond our textbook to use primary sources such as journal entries, speeches, political cartoons, and newspaper articles and have my students write about what these people might have thought about and felt as they struggled with issues of political oppression, poverty, and war. However, on days like today I am also grateful to have a textbook available with its own activities and lesson ideas that I only need to change a little bit to make them suit my needs. I’m now learning how to find a compromise between trying to craft ambitious lessons and using the resources I already have available. Even a simple Google search can bring up dozens of prepared lesson plans. A word of advice to future teachers: you don’t have to think of everything yourself. There are many resources out there for class activities, games, and projects. The key is being able to take those resources and tweak them so that they fit your unique classroom environment.
A political cartoon I used in a lesson on Populism
Written by: Alison E. Putnam