Teacher Institute

teacher institute

Teachers take a turn as students in the town-sized classroom of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. Director of Teacher Development Tab Broyles reviews the lessons.

Learn more: Teacher Development


Lloyd Dobyns: Hi. Welcome to Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present on history.org. This is “Behind the Scenes” where you meet the people who work here. That’s my job. I’m Lloyd Dobyns and mostly I ask questions. Hundreds of teachers make the trip to Colonial Williamsburg each summer -- not to teach, but to learn. The Director of Teacher Development, Tab Broyles, is here to tell us more about the Teacher Institute. What is the Teacher Institute?

Tab Broyles: The Teacher Institute is a weeklong program where we have teachers from all over the United States that come to Williamsburg. What I think is they are totally immersed in history, from staying in our historic houses on the Duke of Gloucester Street and Frances Street. They start off, and they go back in time to the first settlement at Jamestown. They end up in Yorktown, where they get to celebrate the siege of Yorktown and our winning, but also think about what is the future of our country from that point. During the institute, all of the programming that we do with the teachers, we try to make sure that they can go back and work with their students in the classroom. So we give them primary sources, and we give them lesson plans, and we give them reproduction artifacts or newspapers so that they can go back and try to make the history as real and as alive for their students as they have felt while they're here in Williamsburg.

Lloyd: You've said they can use primary sources. Explain that a little bit. What is a primary source?

Tab: A primary source is an original document or artifact or a coin from the time period so that you can actually be as close to that time period as you can be. So for example, one of the things that we use with our teachers to talk about trade, to talk about slavery is a cartouche on the Fry-Jefferson map that shows a slave pushing a barrel. The master's sitting and working with the merchant to settle upon the price of the tobacco. From that, teachers can do what is called an interactive slide, where they can get the students up to act out the different roles to understand the thoughts, the feelings, the reasons that people made decisions. We also use artifacts like a wig curler, or a little needle case, where teachers have to identify what are those objects. They can do that with their students, which automatically piques their curiosity of the students to say, "Hey, I want to find out more." Or if you're reading a diary entry.

What we try to do is, we try to select the programming and the opportunities that best meet the national standards for history and that also meet state curriculum standards for history. So for example, you know, here in Virginia, they talk about, looked at the lives of people from all different levels of society, from slaves, tradesmen, gentlemen. Teachers go around town, they're able to meet either character interpreters, or experience Revolutionary City. Where they can go back and talk to their students about challenges.

Say, for example, that Clementina Rind had. She was a female printer here in Williamsburg. For students – especially for young girls – it's something you don't think of 250 years ago that you have a female printer. But yet, Clementina Rind was someone who was able to publish Thomas Jefferson's "Summary Review of British Rights in America." That helped establish him as a writer and what some of his thoughts were. As well as getting to meet the Thomas Jefferson or George Washington.

Lloyd: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but are you trying to get public school teachers to make history something more lively?

Tab: Absolutely. One of the things that teachers constantly write back to us, they say, "I'm never going to use the textbook again." Between using primary sources, using artifacts, using objects in the classroom, they can make history real. They can make it come alive for their students. For example, one of the things that is one of the most popular things that teachers do with their students is, they might go back and recreate a court trial that we do at the courthouse of 1770 that Tom Hay has helped us very much with. They can go back and look at the judicial process, but actually put the students in the role so that they understand what is trial by jury, to have a jury of your peers. To look at laws today that are the same, but yet, what was their origin? But yet they learn about it in a real way. I think as far as the technique, instead of reading from a book and then answering the questions, they now have real experiential activities they can do with the students to make the point. That way, students, I think, remember what they've learned much longer and see the significance and the relevance more.

Lloyd: Do you have any idea how many teachers you've helped, taught, given information to?

Tab: We have seen 5,800 teachers since 1990. I have seen over the years that the program has been in existence, and this has been our 19th year, I have seen where teachers have come being totally reliant upon a textbook to going back and saying, "I can use these images. That way, students can see what was happening by using a primary source. I can go back and I can use a lady's pocket to show about ladies' roles. I can go back and use a man's haversack that would have been used during military expeditions and that sort of thing." The idea is to make the history come alive so it's not just something from the past.

Lloyd: What grades do you teach the teachers?

Tab: Our focus is on usually 5th grade, 8th grade, and high school. That's because that's where in most standard curriculums that's where American history is being taught.

Lloyd: You said the first class I think was in 1990.

Tab: Yes.

Lloyd: How has it changed for you or the Teacher Institute in the 19 seasons that you've been talking about?

Tab: I think what I would say is that it changes every year. That's because the needs of the students are always changing. What's happening in society changes what's happening with the students and what's happening with the teachers. Over the years, each summer we work directly with the teachers. They will say, "I need more on the government and the events to the Revolution as far as a content area."

Lloyd: You said 500 teachers this summer. Is that one course or one, two, three courses?

Tab: We run 18 to 20 sessions in the summer.

Lloyd: I was a little low on that.

Tab: We work with groups of 25 so that it doesn't force people to lecture to get information across, but it allows the teachers to participate. For example, one of the things that we do when you were mentioning looking at people in different levels of society, one of the ways you can make that understandable is to use clothing so that students have a visual of what was it like to live at different levels of society. So that they can actually feel the clothes, wear the clothes, and see the differences from wearing a set of tightly-boned stays if you're gentry to wearing a set of jumps if you were someone from the lower class or a slave. So we can do that.

Lloyd: Are teachers good students?

Tab: Absolutely. I think teachers are very good students, that the teachers that I work with here in the summer, they want to learn more. They want to take more back to their students. They want to have some of the teachers at an elementary level have maybe not necessarily ever had formal training or coursework in history. So this is bringing to them the content as well as how to teach it.

I can tell you that when teachers go back, they do have the content. They receive a cd-rom from us that has, at last count, about 1,800 pages of lesson plans, primary sources, documents, pictures, images, graphic organizers which are worksheets that can help teachers or help students understand the content better. They have all that content to go back and use in the classroom. What we hope is that we've inspired them to go back and to read and to learn more.

One of the things that we do with teachers is they have, we give our elementary teachers a biography while they're here during the week. Using wills, and inventories and, you know, advertisements from the Virginia Gazette, so that they can go back and learn about a person from the past. One of the favorite people that they like to learn about is Frances Tasker Carter. That's because when she was alive, she had a tutor named Philip Vickers Fithian who wrote and kept a diary. I can't tell you how many people have gone back and have read that diary. Because he tells stories about how the children are growing up and, you know, pretending as if they're pregnant like their mothers again learning what their role in the family was. It talks about the lifestyle.

Lloyd: Has anybody ever gone to the students and said, "Is this a, did you learn anything, is it better this way than it was the other way?"

Tab: We definitely have, and in fact I think one of the things that Teacher Institute's done over the years is, we've not only created a legacy of what I think of as excellent practices in teaching history, but we're also creating a legacy in who our future teachers are.

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