History departments can follow concrete, immediate, and targeted strategies to make themselves effective mentors to the future history teachers among their students.
The first step is to gauge the situation of their own students. Many of the academic historians at the Charlottesville conference admitted that they had no idea how many of their students were planning to become teachers or what paths students follow to that goal. Many admitted that they had never thought about future teachers or how they might best be prepared for the work they would be undertaking in the near future. Many acknowledged that a large proportion of their best students were applying to Teach for America but were being given no aid in preparing for that challenging work. It will be helpful for each department to identify those students, their numbers, and their needs as early as possible to understand the scale and scope of what might be done.
A second step might be for history departments to consider where they stand within their own institutions. Every school, from community colleges to the Ivy League, prepares future teachers of history. There is, as a result, great variety in the ways that future history teachers are prepared and a range of strategies to make that preparation effective.
If history departments are in institutions with schools of education, for example, the departments should open communication and establish collaboration. Joint advising has been successful at many schools and some historians might propose cross-listing their courses or team-teaching classes of the sort described below. If history departments are on their own, without schools of education, they have an even greater responsibility to think about preparing the future teachers in their charge.
A third step is for history departments to learn more about the situation in the K-12 classrooms of their community. Our conference showed how much historians in colleges have to learn from teachers in high schools. Inviting history teachers to visit to talk about standards, curricula, and local resources would help historians be better allies. By offering to help evaluate pre-service teachers in their practice teaching, in turn, historians could focus on disciplinary content and help students recognize the connections between what they teach and what historians teach in their own classrooms . By working with new history teachers in local schools in induction programs historians could make an immediate impact on the quality of history instruction in their communities and on beginning teachers' success in the field.
Thinking About the Curriculum
The new history pedagogy emphasizes that future teachers need to know how to "do history," how to construct historical narratives and arguments. The Resources section of this document offers some helpful recent scholarship on the subject.
Fortunately, academic history departments are expert at such work; now, they need to present it to their undergraduate students more explicitly and more systematically.
The basic curricular principles are straightforward:
- History teachers-in-training need to be exposed to differing interpretations and research methods early and in a sustained way.
- History teachers-in-training need to discuss the thinking behind the work they are doing, the purposes and strategies that animate good history teaching.
- History teachers-in-training would benefit from an integrated departmental curriculum that introduces them to a broad range of history. An uncoordinated combination of idiosyncratic and highly specialized courses does not serve them well.
Each department will have to decide for itself how this kind of teaching can best be integrated into its curriculum. They might ask themselves whether, in their institution, there should be:
- special classes for future teachers
- a particular path through the history course offerings
- new kinds of classes that cover history more synthetically—in world history, for example, or in comparative history—in ways that prepare future teachers for the demands of the K-12 classroom
- a role for local, state, or national standards in shaping the curriculum
- a junior-senior semester capstone that "revisits" at least one of the surveys at a more mature level
- department workshops dedicated to teaching, in which students are invited to participate
- syllabi shared with one another and with historians elsewhere
- ways in which faculty in the department might make the decisions behind their own teaching more transparent
- discussions among the faculty about which particular teaching method might be most effective in teaching a particular topic
Any combination of these strategies would make history departments better allies for their students who plan to become teachers of the discipline.
Recognition and Reward
Most institutions have not adequately recognized the contributions of historians who work with teachers. We hope this national initiative might be an occasion for departments to focus the attention of deans, provosts, and promotion committees on this important work. Departments and their chairs might begin this process themselves by more formally recognizing and more generously rewarding teacher preparation.
Recruiting Future History Teachers
While we may assume that most of those students before us who are inclined to become history teachers may already have decided on that career path, history professors might also encourage others to consider becoming teachers. That recruitment may be as simple as a kind comment on a paper or a private conversation during office hours. Recruitment, however, could also involve inviting in a star local high school teacher or welcoming colleagues from local school districts to hold a session on campus in which they explain their needs.
Whatever the strategy, we suggest that history departments actively recruit excellent students to become history teachers and help lay out the paths by which that career can be achieved.
Thinking about Graduate Programs
Increasingly, school districts are looking for teachers with masters degrees in their subject areas. A great deal that cannot be taught at the undergraduate level can be taught in two years of graduate training.
While the demand is increasing for history teachers with masters degrees, however, the opportunities for that training may not be developing as they could. Departments with doctoral programs are diminishing the role of masters degrees and masters degree programs are not as dedicated as they might be to preparing future teachers. Instead, they are often taught as the first step toward a PhD that many students have no intention of pursuing.
We suggest that history departments reconsider their graduate programs in light of the growing demand for advanced training in history teaching.