In a perfect world I’d love to teach at a high school where I could (within reason) create my own classes. At my high school, seniors took 6-week seminar style social studies electives and I LOOOOOOVED it. I chose to take one on the 1920s, another on the Vietnam War, another on current events in Africa, and I actually don’t remember the other one (oops, sorry amazing seminar teachers). Ever since then I thought that would be a great way to teach. I would have students in the class who genuinely wanted to be there and I would be able to teach things I was truly passionate and exceptionally knowledgeable about. I would be able to take a small-ish topic and go more in depth with it than a traditional class schedule would allow.
Yes I enjoy teaching (and am knowledgeable about) a lot of topics in the history/social studies world, but I certainly have my preferences. I have always wanted to teach a full class on Europe from 1919-1945 and another class JUST on the Holocaust, but again, even short seminars (like half a semester each) on topics such as art theft throughout history would be great.
One reason why this has been on my mind lately is because I do have a lot of flexibility in what I teach in my Thursday class. If you’re new here, it originally started out per the director as a “Music Theory” class, but then due to parent opinion turned into a “Western Culture and Civilization” class with a preferable focus on including art or music of some kind within each topic. I had incorrectly predicted the pace at which we would move during the French Revolution Unit and we finished it 3 weeks before spring break. I didn’t want to start another “big” topic/unit because our spring break is 2 weeks long and I didn’t want the kids brain dumping everything so with permission from the director, I decided to teach a mini-unit on art theft throughout history.
I was honestly REALLY excited about this. It was going to be completely out of the box for the kids and I hoped that my enthusiasm would help keep them focused even though spring break was in sight. The first week I told them we were starting something totally new and they’d learn what we were going to study by completing a cloze passage. I made one passage for the 5th/6th graders, another for 7/8, and a third for the 9/10 kids. Since NONE of the kids had done a cloze passage before I suggested that they skim the page first, see if they could get any clues, and then start filling in the blanks. I also told them to not get hung up on the “right” word (as in the word I had in my answer key), but rather a word that would still provide a reader with the general gist, so if I wrote authorities and they wrote police that was fine, if I wrote escaped and they wrote got away I told them that was fine too. The kids all figured out that it was about art/painting theft and after we discussed the general gist of the passage we dove into the material.
The cloze passage had given them an overview of the topic and contained detailed a few different examples of art theft, including one where the thief was caught but the art was not recovered (they had a lot of fun guessing where the paintings could be and how we might find them), one where the thief and the paintings were recovered, one where neither the thieves nor art was recovered, and then they had a paragraph about this topic during WW2 (we followed that up the second week of this topic by spending the whole class period talking about art theft during WW2).
We then looked at pictures of dozens of paintings that had been stolen over time and the kids had a lot of really great discussions about why people steal, what their motivation is, is the risk worth the potential reward, what makes paintings in particular a target, etc, and then they diverged into the half-serious-half 7th grade-mentality of “I bet this is how they got away with it,” and their thought process was definitely sci-fi movie worthy than class worthy.
On the last day of this unit, I divided the kids up in to pairs/groups of 3 and they were each presented with a real life case of art theft, and then acting as reporters, presented the facts to the rest of the class press conference style, and answered the questions posed by their classmates. Having something physical like that the day before spring break, and interactive, I think was huge in keeping them engaged. I recommended Woman in Gold and Monuments Men to them to watch over spring break since overall they were pretty enthusiastic about the topic, and one parent already emailed me thanking me for the recommendations, as a family they had already watched Woman in Gold and were going to watch Monuments Men next week.
When class let out I did feel bad that we couldn’t keep discussing this topic after spring break since we do have the rest of the curriculum to get through, but it definitely reignited my burning desire to not just teach history from the Revolutionary War through the Cold War for the rest of my career. I love it, I do, but I also really really really want to teach classes on smaller/more focused topics. Maybe I should start considering higher ed? We’ll see what opportunities present themselves in the next few years.
If you could teach anything you wanted what would it be?
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