Last night’s panel on Getting the Most Out of the OAH went quite well. Much to my surprise, we had probably 40 or so in the audience. I hope that more and more precollegiate teachers become members of professional organizations, like the OAH, and begin attending annual meetings and perhaps even volunteering for committees (I actually just applied to help out with the OAH Committee on Teaching). I can understand, however, if my precollegiate teaching colleagues feel out of place in such organizations.
As I noted in my essay about my experience at the AHA meeting in Boston last year, I was often asked the question, “What are you doing here?” as if a high school teacher was out of place at the annual meeting. I realize that as a high school teacher, I might not necessarily make a big splash in the field of history, but I would like to think that my work would at least lead others to believe that I am a professional historian. Recently, in the “From the President” column of the March 2012 Perspectives, William Cronon wrote an essay titled, “Professional Boredom.” In it he argued that those of us not at a university/college should still be treated as professionals. His call provides an excellent opportunity for organizations like the AHA and OAH to reach out to precollegiate teachers.
For example, there are a lot of us teachers who would like to continue taking content courses at universities; however, many institutions do not offer history courses at times conducive to teachers (meaning after 3:30ish), and if they do, they are usually so specialized that the content, while interesting, might not be useful for a teacher. This problem could hopefully lead to some fruitful dialogue between post-secondary and K-12 teachers to see how university history departments could better serve the needs of teachers. (I should mention that I am quite fortunate to live in Madison, WI, home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and that I have been lucky to work with professors on independent studies and even two courses, although the “actual” courses were in political science.) Would history departments suddenly collapse if they offered a few early evening/night classes for teachers each semester?
That said, my precollegiate teaching colleagues also have their fair share of work to do with this issue. I am well aware of the time constraints placed on us due to our very full platters (let’s face it, we no longer have full plates, we have full platters); however, that should not lead teachers to take the quick and easy way when it comes to graduate coursework (cough, video courses, cough). Surely, we would not expect our students to take the quick and easy way when it comes to assignments; so if we want to take courses at universities/colleges, we need to be prepared to engage in hours of reading and writing, the activities that led us to become history teachers in the first place.
I would also love to see organizations like the OAH and the AHA, not to mention the various history societies and conference groups, reach out to precollegiate teachers and welcome them, perhaps even provide them with opportunities to participate in committees or workshops/conferences throughout the year. If they are going to reach out to K-12 teachers, however, then those teachers need to start attending annual meetings and volunteering their time. Once this happens, the history profession will emerge stronger and more unified. Until then, the feeling of “us versus them” will continue to divide our field.