The Annual Meeting Is for Teachers
Highlights for K–12 Attendees at AHA24
In the past, my fellow teachers have asked me skeptically if the AHA annual meeting is a conference that welcomes K–12 educators. Colleagues have shared that they have thought of the meeting as a place for scholars to report on their research, not a place where people discuss teaching or focus on students’ learning in the classroom.
I have never experienced the annual meeting this way. On the contrary, I always find sessions where panelists generously share teaching materials, workshops during which I get to puzzle alongside other educators about how to integrate more and new content into crowded curricula or teach writing better, and many valuable opportunities for teachers to connect. Each January, after one semester in the classroom trying to convince teenagers that what we do in class matters, I find nothing quite as invigorating, inspiring, and reaffirming as swapping battle stories with other history teachers. I typically leave the annual meeting ready for semester two: with new materials, new ideas, new energy, and the email addresses of people whose advice I will continue to seek years later.
There are almost 90 sessions devoted to teaching and learning history.
One glance at the AHA24 program should convince anyone that this annual meeting offers teachers the same rich experience. There are almost 90 sessions devoted to teaching and learning history. As in past years, I will attend those sessions that share concrete resources that I can use in my classroom right after I return from San Francisco. Among those is the always popular K–16 Educators’ Workshop on primary sources, guided by Lee Ann Potter from the Library of Congress on Saturday morning (part 2 follows at 10:30 a.m.). This year’s workshop will investigate membership cards, receipts, and certificates, all sources that are sure to help students get closer to past individual experience. (If this isn’t to your taste, there are five other teaching workshops this year.) I also look forward to the Sunday session on Reimagining American History, which promises to show teachers how digital resources can help illuminate connections between current controversies and the past, connections students typically don’t see. Finally, the American Historical Review’s session on the new AHR syllabus project, Teaching How Historians Work, will suggest new strategies—including analysis of video games, investigation of “things,” and historiography—to help teachers bring historians’ work into the classroom.
It has been a rough year for history educators at all levels and across the country: in local school districts and at the state level, policy makers have threatened teachers’ freedom to teach difficult history. Many educators—at all levels, from public schools to private and from primary to postsecondary—feel harassed, intimidated, and worried about their livelihoods. Several sessions devoted to this difficult new reality promise to provide space for discussion and support. The roundtable Teacher Educators, Teachers, and Activists Speak on Teaching Difficult Subjects in Contentious Times will discuss censorship of history teachers as well as other constraints: crowded classrooms, parental and public pressures, and increasingly underprepared students. Teaching as a Crime: Anti-Woke Legislation and What It Means for Teaching Race in Florida Colleges and Universities and the Rest of the Nation will address how anti-CRT bills have affected free speech in classrooms in Florida and elsewhere. I also anticipate that Teaching History in Polarized Times will offer teachers unsure about tackling so-called “divisive” historical subjects strategies to reach skeptical audiences. Finally, I am very excited to learn what teachers are actually teaching across the country: For the past year and a half, an AHA research team has been interviewing and surveying educators about what materials they use in their history classroom, and they will present their progress at American Lesson Plan. (Spoiler alert: American students are not being indoctrinated.) The study’s results should provide educators with the concrete evidence necessary to argue that what happens in American history classrooms is not “wokeism.”
I am very excited to learn what teachers are actually teaching across the country.
The AHA annual meeting is the largest gathering of academic historians in the world. So while my conference schedule will be filled with sessions on teaching, I also attend the meeting to hear presentations of first-rate scholarship. During the school year, high school teachers like me have little time to study the content we teach. This February, for example, I start teaching a class on Middle Eastern history, a subject I have never taught or seriously studied before. I have been reading as much as possible, but I am relieved that I get to listen and talk to scholars specializing in the region’s history in San Francisco at sessions on the unwinding of the Ottoman Empire and on late Ottoman migration. I am also hoping to add to my knowledge of US history. On my list are sessions on the Indigenous experience in boarding schools, the civil rights movement in California, and a panel discussion comparing political participation by Black and Native Americans in the early 20th century. Armed with insights from new research, I will return to the classroom a more confident teacher. A number of sessions this year explicitly promise to help build the bridge from academic scholarship to classroom practice. For example, I am curious about a session on teaching the Holocaust, as I have often felt that the few days my district’s curriculum devotes to the topic barely do it justice. I know my US history classes will benefit from what I’ll learn at a roundtable on teaching Mexican American/Chicana/o history as American history and from the session organized by the AHA’s Teaching Division on bringing Pacific Rim history to the classroom.
The AHA’s Teaching Division hopes that educators at all levels will use the annual meeting to get to know each other and to celebrate our common objective: teaching history well. Throughout the four days in San Francisco there should be many opportunities for informal connection. I look forward to having conversations with colleagues before, after, and in between sessions. And of course I hope to see everyone at the K–12 reception on Saturday evening. Please come, say hi to me, and stay and mingle!
Katharina Matro teaches history at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, and is a member of the AHA Council for the Teaching Division. Find her on X (formerly Twitter) @KatharinaMatro.
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