Jumping Into the Fray with Teaching with Historic Places
By James A. Percoco, History Teacher West Springfield High School, Springfield, Virginia
“A teacher,” wrote historian and journalist Henry Adams, “can affect eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” How was I to know years ago, as I was pondering my future as a high school history teacher, that Adams, his quote, and the subsequent enigmatic sculpture that adorns his and his wife’s grave in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery would somehow coalesce to help make me the teacher I have become? Those who sink their hearts and souls into teaching young people about our collective past no doubt will encounter similar epiphanies along the way. In doing so, they will affect the lives of the students that sit before them. It is, I believe, a great part of the process; it’s that great mysterious DNA that committed teachers understand in relationship with their students.
To be candid, had I not become a history teacher, I most likely would have found myself among the ranks of the many National Park Service rangers I have had the pleasure to work with during the last three decades. If you will permit me to wear my want-to-be ranger hat for a moment, I’d like to share with you how I have discovered that teachers of American history can cross over into the world of the cultural and historic resources of the National Park Service while still remaining enclosed by the cinderblock walls of their school. If you—like many in these fiscally tight times—can’t take your students to visit historic sites, you have at your fingertips on the computer keyboard the ability to bring sites to your students right there in your classroom.
For more than twenty years the National Park Service has, through its Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program provided for virtual field trips through the more than 135 lesson plans it has published. Written by teachers, National Park Service education specialists, and others, these lesson plans cover a wide range of themes that comprise the American narrative. The lessons meet national standards that are requisite for good history education, civic education, and service learning. They are pedagogically sound, reflecting best practices.