Teaching Division 2003

By William A. Weber

I conclude my term as vice president feeling great pride in what the Association has done to advance history teaching in spite of the many inherent constraints that limit possibilities of action. The American Historical Association is unusual in pursuing missions for both research and teaching. K–12 teachers, in particular, are usually not members of disciplinary associations, which tend to focus instead on the researcher and the scholar. However, the AHA has been devoting much greater attention to teachers. It is worth noting that 5 percent of its members are from K–12 schools and that the AHA’s programs on teaching—especially those that involve collaboration with other organizations—have been having a significant impact.

During the last 15 years I have watched with pleasure a growing number of history departments start programs either to give workshops for practicing teachers or to train student teachers. The view has emerged that a department needs to do this if it is to fulfill a basic responsibility to keep history alive within our society. Faculty from community colleges, four- and five-year institutions, and high-level graduate faculties have involved themselves deeply in such activities. On the whole, however, it has been public institutions without doctoral programs, mandated by the states to train teachers, that most commonly pursue such programs, and indeed have exerted extensive leadership in this area.

The recently introduced Teaching American History grants program gave a real and much-needed boost to collaborative programs and this has also become a focus of the Teaching Division’s work, especially in conjunction with other organizations. The AHA chose—appropriately enough—not to enter into direct partnerships with local Teaching American History sites, but has worked instead with the Organization of American Historians and the National Council for the Social Studies in two programs designed to enhance collaboration—both within Teaching American History projects and outside the projects. First came a document that delineates “benchmarks” for good professional development of teachers. Then the conference “Innovations in Collaboration” was held last June, bringing together more than 300 schoolteachers, university historians, social studies educators, museum coordinators, government education officers, and history organization officials.

Another activity that the division has undertaken in support of the collaborative programs is to collect some exemplary syllabi of methods courses given by historians for students preparing for the teaching credential. These will be posted on the AHA’s web site to serve as models for others interested in developing such courses.

The division has also worked closely with the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) and its research director, Philip Katz. The committee’s recently published report (The Education of Historians for the Twenty-first Century) constitutes a breakthrough in recognizing that graduate programs must prepare students for their careers in teaching. The need for introductory methods courses proved a common interest for the division and the CGE, both in undergraduate as well as graduate programs. The division’s active participation in the work of the Committee on the Master’s Degree in History thus included discussion of such “gateway” courses, finding them an important means by which to deepen students’ understanding of our discipline. The division’s consultations with the committee will culminate in a panel on the MA degree at the 2005 annual meeting.

The Association is well served by its staff and officers. It has been my pleasure to receive insightful information and advice from my colleagues in the division, Joan Arno of Central High School, Philadelphia; Victoria Harden of the National Institutes of Health; and Keith Barton, professor of education at the University of Cincinnati; I particularly salute Peggy Renner, who exits the division with me, for assessing the needs of two-year college historians. Among the association’s staff, I must express my gratitude for aid to the division’s work given by Cliff Jacobs, Vernon Horn, and Pillarisetti Sudhir, the editor of Perspectives. Most important of all, I thank Noralee Frankel, the division’s principal staff representative, for astute advice based upon her extensive knowledge about education; her leadership was central to writing the benchmarks and developing the conference on collaboration.

William Weber (California State University at Long Beach) was vice president of the Teaching Division, 2001–03.