There’s a saying that “teachers make the worst students.” This hasn’t been my experience at Fort Ticonderoga. Over the past several years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of dedicated, innovative teachers as part of my job at Fort Ticonderoga.
This July, we host our first Fort Ticonderoga Teacher Institute focused on Benedict Arnold. A group of teachers from as far away as California will spend a week learning about the career of Benedict Arnold while also participating in a series of experiences designed to immerse them in the 18th-century history of Fort Ticonderoga. Teacher Institute participants will work with original documents in our collection and spend time creating innovative lesson plans incorporating multiple disciplines, including history, geography, ELA, math, and science. Developing an environment of collegiality, we hope to create a model learning experience for educators that will be replicated in future Institutes.
The Fort Ticonderoga Teacher Institute is an outgrowth of our participation in the National Endowment for the Humanities “Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers” program. In 2011, we hosted two week-long workshops for a total of 80 teachers from across the country. During the week-long workshop focused on “The American Revolution on the Northern Frontier: Fort Ticonderoga and the Road to Saratoga,” we brought together a group of scholars to work with teachers as they explored the first three years of the American Revolution as it unfolded on the Northern Frontier.
These week-long workshops enabled teachers to interact with noted scholars in their fields and delve into the historical content of 1775-1777 while working with each other and utilizing the special resources Fort Ticonderoga can provide. One of the visiting scholars for the program was historian James Kirby Martin from the University of Houston. Martin’s engaging presentation style and his willingness to make himself accessible to teachers throughout his time here made him a logical choice to be the lead scholar for our first Teacher Institute this summer.
Providing teachers with an opportunity to have more time with historical content is the intent of our on-going teacher scholarship program. Begun in 2001, the teacher scholarships enable teachers to attend our various conferences and symposia. In addition to waiving the registration fees, the scholarships include several meals, including an off-site dinner with the seminar speakers. Our speakers frequently comment on the uniqueness of this opportunity to interact with teachers. Since 2001, 108 teachers have attended on scholarships, including the War College of the Seven Years’ War, the Seminar on the American Revolution, the Conference on Lake George and Lake Champlain, and Material Matters: It’s in the Details. Teachers have come from 14 different states and two Canadian provinces.
Another opportunity to work with teachers comes through the NEH’s “Teaching American History” program. These multiyear grants through school districts bring historical content to the teachers through a series of field trips, day-long workshops, and seminars. I’ve recently worked with three TAH groups (2 from Vermont and one from Connecticut). These grants teach teachers historical process and techniques and emphasize working with primary documents, artifacts, artworks, and historic sites.
Yet another opportunity to work with teachers comes through annual conferences, including the NYS Council for the Social Studies Conference and the Vermont Alliance for the Social Studies Conference. While the window of time to work with teachers is much smaller—usually just an hour to ninety minutes as part of a larger schedule of sessions—sharing techniques for engaging students with primary sources and historic sites can have a lasting impact on not just the teachers, but on their students for years to come.
And teaching teachers is really about that—having a lasting impact on students. Working with teachers has a ripple-effect. When a teacher learns how to incorporate the use of engaging, innovative techniques in their teaching, the student is the winner. While there is a limit to the number of students we can engage in a meaningful manner onsite at Fort Ticonderoga, the sky is the limit when it comes to the total number of students we can impact through our work with teachers.
Director of Education