From Student to Teacher: A Modest Proposal for Teaching U.S. History for the Secondary Classroom

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:20 PM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)
Laura M. Westhoff , University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
An emphasis on improving history teacher content knowledge demands that teacher education students enroll in more history classes.  But while teacher education students often enroll in an array of upper level U.S. History courses that plunge them into exciting and rewarding study of specific topics-- the Civil War, women’s history, the Civil Rights Movement—as teachers they will need a different kind of content knowledge and skills than a curriculum of fragmented history courses provides.  They must learn to synthesize content and develop coherent themes as they teach about the American past, hopefully avoiding the “one darn fact after another” syndrome.  The best teachers strive to engage students in deep inquiry about the on-going issues, debates, and stories that have defined the American nation.  Once they transition out of the role of student, the teacher education students sitting in our history classes become creators of a narrative of U.S. history.  They choose what and how to teach topics; they select themes to tie unites together and to weave across the school year.  In this regard, they play a significant role in the politics of knowledge surrounding the history curriculum as they decide what and whose stories they tell and how they tell them.  This presentation describes a course, U.S. History for the Secondary Classroom, that attends to these issues as it helps students make the intellectual transition from student to teacher of history.  As it examines the transition from student to teacher as creator of narrative, it discusses the historical thinking skills implicit in this work—the ability to frame historical questions, to use appropriately a variety of primary and secondary source evidence, and to construct meaningful and historically sound narratives of the American past.