As a history teacher, I am very fond of primary sources. In our credential programs, history teachers are taught how to integrate primary sources into our classroom instruction. We are taught that primary sources bring learning alive and allow students to analyze, gain perspectives, and overall do the work of great historians.
Knowing the many beauties of primary sources, I used them as frequently as possible. My students analyzed visuals and texts from various eras of American history, and when they did, there was a heightened level of engagement and learning in the classroom. I was sold on primary sources and convinced I knew all of the ways they helped students access historical information—I was so wrong.
I never even realized the actual beauty of primary sources until I saw Tom Brokaw talk at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government forum. Mr. Brokaw shared his experiences covering the falling of the Berlin Wall. While he discussed the historical climate of the time period and inserted his personal anecdotes, I couldn’t help but notice the awe that was in the air. He was an exemplary example of a primary source that could ignite a passion for history. Participants of all ages were hanging on his every word, and I was falling in love with history all over again.
For all of my teacher readers, I realize Tom Brokaw can’t visit all of our classrooms—although I highly recommend he go on tour—I just merely wanted to remind us all of the magical topic we are teaching. Its easy to get bogged down in district mandates, standardized assessments, and textbooks that its easy to lose sight of our passion for history. Whether its watching a documentary, reading a piece of historical fiction, or going to see Tom Brokaw speak, I encourage all teachers, to take time to fuel your passion (whatever it is) and integrate it back into your classrooms.
As educators we aspire to create lifelong learners, but we can’t forget to lead by example.