Teaching

Nothing Will Be the Same After This: Four conversations that can help you (re)craft your history pedagogy to respond to an unknown future

Published on 24 Aug 2020

Part Three of Four

By Samantha Cutrara

I mean … even if you thought, you wished, you prayed (in whatever way that meant to you. As R. Eric Thomas says, maybe your church is “blasting showtunes and going to brunch”) that fall would be kinda of normal. Or, if not fall, definitely winter. By winter we’ll be back to normal.

I mean, even if you thought that there will be an element of normalcy or familiarity in the 2020/2021 school year, I’m sure you see by now that nothing will be the same after this.

Even if the “space” of the “classroom” (and by “space” and “classroom” I mean both the literal and figurative understandings of those concepts) is what we know and expect them to be (my memories immediately transport me to sitting in a 1960s retrofitted classroom at University College at UofT gazing out the window at the quad listening to my professor in a bulky sweater lecture about political theory in the abstract) nothing will be the same after this.

What will it be, we do not know.

But this moment has put an imprint on our generation, and the generations to come, in ways we will forever be changed by.

The confusion of it all, but also its sorrow, its grief. The confusion of sitting in/with the confusion.

Thus, even if classes, classrooms, or course outlines seem to be the same in fall or winter…

They won’t be

We won’t be.

We’ll be forever changed by this moment: the #ShutDownCanada movement, COVID-19, worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, the literal tearing down of political statues, the commemorative remembering of the Siege of Kanehsatà:ke, and the fear of the increased erosion of democracy and due process in Canada and around the world There is so much change that it is hard to keep up, let along process. We will be, we have been, changed.

And so even if we tried to pretend things would be the same in our classrooms this academic year (who hasn’t found performative solace at the front of the room when things in our “real lives” are going wrong?), the world outside the classroom won’t be the same.

Our students won’t be the same.

Their(/our) futures won’t be.

Their opportunities and needs won’t be.

Nothing will be the same after this.

You shouldn’t expect that and you shouldn’t want that either.

A central theme that has come from the Pandemic Pedagogy video series I’ve been hosting since March (on June 30th I posted the 35th -- and final -- video in the spring series!) is how the pandemic has revealed the brokenness of our social, economic, and political structures – or perhaps another way to put this is that the pandemic has laid bare how our social, economic, and political structures were designed in broken ways; how they were designed to create, exacerbate, and maintain inequities along lines of class, race, and gender.

Many of us already knew this, but the pandemic made us see this in ways we may have ignored before.

To move into our unknown future, we could use this knowledge the pandemic forced us to look at and actively make change for the better. We can (and many of us certainly have) fight against inequities, demand changes to our systems, and learn and grow in ways that perhaps makes us uncomfortable. To help influence the changes we want to see in the world, we cannot leave unquestioned the ways we operate in inequitable systems and, in this series of posts, I argue that this involves our teaching and learning practices too.

More specifically, in our work of “mobilizing the past” in our classrooms, we have to act upon, not just hope for, a new, more equitable and this will involve going beyond what we know in our pedagogies and practices.

Because we don’t know what that future will be or who our students will be within it,[1] our response to this moment in our classrooms needs to revolve around navigating the unknown in ways that don’t long for what was but that believes in the promise of what could be. As we move into fall, we (and I put myself in this category) need to stop thinking that our “regular” practices are “on hold” until this moment is “over” and things will go back to “normal” and we’ll feel “comfortable” again.

Nothing will be the same after this. There won’t be a “normal” to go back to. Or at least there shouldn’t be.

Think of this moment as razing and rebuilding teaching, for yourselves, but also the future of the profession. Think of it as laying the seeds for the practices that will be considered “normal” in 20 years – practices, that will again need to be redeveloped. Because that is how change works.

This isn’t an easy, one term thing. It is a long-term commitment that starts by imagining and testing practices that could inform what this looks like, and feels like, to you.

So, where do you begin?

A good way to start is looking for and drawing on conversations that go beyond the reactive reflection of this moment. These ideas are important, don’t get me wrong, but to start laying the foundation of new practices and pedagogies, we can start by humbly listening to, and gradually participating in, conversations that have already been happening before the pandemic.

These conversations have already planted seeds as to new ways of teaching and learning. What fruit can you reap (I don’t know if this metaphor is working) to put in your new pedagogical jam (I mean, it kinda works…)?

Four conversations topics that I have found myself being drawn (back) into include Digital Humanities, Learning Outcomes, what I’m going to call “K-12 education and public history practices,” and the Public Sphere. 

In last week’s post I discussed the Learning Outcomes. This week, we will look at: 

K-12 education and public history practices

I know that teaching without background in how to teach is daunting. I know that the emphasis on teaching in higher education, even if not as institutionally recognized as other practices, might even seem like a game of dodge ball without knowing the rules. I know that without a formal learning-how-to-teach background, many educators model the practices they saw as learners and these practices are often based in a very analogue educator-centric tradition. I know that to build and develop teaching practices without a teaching background, the best-case scenario is that we can draw on the support of colleagues and incredible Teaching Commons across institutions. And I also know that in thinking of your work teaching in a college or university classroom as kin to an elementary teacher’s work seems ludicrous considering your expertise in the subject matter compared to the generalities of elementary teachers’.

BUT

Teaching and learning across contexts is not that different. You may have different content, different ways to present that content, and different learners but learning – the act of scaffolding new content on established cognitive structures – is the same for everyone.

And so broaden your network of teaching and learning supports to people outside higher education because you’ll learn different ways of engaging material and learners that are outside the standard undergrad lecture/seminar format.

For example, two days after a grade 2 teacher told me she has started to understand her role as a remote teacher as “curating” content for her students, higher ed innovator (& Honourable Mention for the CHA teaching award this year) Mary Chaktsiris said the same thing on twitter, a comment that writer Andrea Eidinger brought into her June 2nd blog post for University Affairs, a blog post that became one of the top read articles for that week.

Image - 24 August blog 
Photo Credit: Ms. Jean McNiven, librarian at the Montreal Children's Library branch at Strathearn School, reading to a group of Grade Two pupils. [1]

If you hover around conversations on twitter by elementary, intermediate, and high school teachers, (you can also start by watching conversations from my video series with teachers such as Mel Williams, Leanne Young, Katy Whitfeld, Ian Duncan, and Reshma Konstantinova) you’ll learn things about your own pedagogy that can be developed, affirmed, or rethought. How do we teach history after this? I don’t know, says high school history teacher Ian Duncan. Because “I don’t know who my students will be when we get back to the classroom.” Such a powerful concept. And something that really sparked this series for me.

Spending time listening to, even participating in, these conversations will make you a better educator. they will inspire you. If you think back to your own learning in K-12 or Higher Ed, I bet you can think of more fun learning opportunities you’ve had in K-12 than you can in Higher Ed. Learning doesn’t need to be more serious as we get older – we have just made it so. Active, experiential learning can happen at any age and K-12 teachers are more practiced in making this a central part of their students’ learning. This also doesn’t mean that we can’t bring in critical conversations. All classrooms can be “woke,” even kindergarten.

What are some K-12 teachers you follow on social media? This list may be a good start but there are many others. What are some K-12 practices that could work in your classroom? Comment below to share.

Dr. Samantha Cutrara is a History Education Strategist based in Toronto and is currently working in the Office of the Vice Provost Academic at York University as a Curriculum Specialist. Her first book Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imagining a New ‘We’ will be published by UBC Press in September 2020. Find more information about her work on her website: www.SamanthaCutrara.com. Contact her directly if you’re interested in participating in either her Pandemic Pedagogy or Source Saturday video series launching in the fall.

Note
The author would like to acknowledge that this work was created on land that is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Métis, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and the author is grateful to have the opportunity to write, study, teach, and learn in the community, on this territory.

[1] Unknown, Department of Manpower and Immigration. Library and Archives Canada, e011055628. (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/CollectionSearch/Pages/record.aspx?app=fonandcol&IdNumber=4369752).

 

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