Teaching History Part 1: Motivation

This post marks the first part in a series of post designed to explore history instruction to assist history teachers at teaching history in more culturally inclusive, balanced, and responsive ways.

Teaching history is a major responsibility. I don’t minimize the other content areas, but teaching history is so important. However, there are some who believe that teaching history is something anyone can do or is something that doesn’t require any kind of skill.

That is simply not the truth. I remember when applying for high school history teacher positions and being told by numerous district leaders that the applicant list was high. I am sure that all of those folks had their certification to teach history, but I wonder how many of those folks could really teach history.

Our current political environment places even greater emphasis on the need for teachers to both teach all truths of history and connect those truths to how we live together as a society. In order to do that, history teachers must explore their personal philosophy of history education. It doesn’t require that history teachers to do anything more than self-reflect.

A common technique of history and literature teachers is deploying the 5 W’s with their students when reading a text and/or examining an event in history. The 5 W’s are who, what, where, when, and why. History teachers (all teachers) should do the same thing with respect to reflecting on their philosophy for teaching history; particularly American history teachers.

Here is how history teachers should ask themselves the 5 W’s with respect to teaching history content:

  1. WHO do you teach? Do you teach White students, Black students, Latinx students, Asian students, Indigenous students, biracial students, or some combination? Do you teach students who identify as LGBTQIA? What are the faiths of your students or are there any atheists among your students? Are your students from a privileged or a humbled background? Are you aware of the demographics of your students?
  2. WHAT history do you teach? Meaning, what perspective or lens are you teaching from? Do you teach with a Eurocentric lens or non-Eurocentric lens? Are you teaching with a patriarchal lens or a lens that is gender neutral? Do you teach from a lens of intersectionality or not? Do you understand the meaning of intersectionality?
  3. WHERE do you teach history? Where are you teaching? Are you in a rural area, a city or urban area, or a suburb? Where have you chosen to teach/ where do you desire to teach and are you teaching where you chose or desire to be? Where are you in your professional and personal life as you teach history?
  4. WHEN do you teach history? Specifically, what are the societal circumstances according to our current time surrounding your teaching of history? What are the current politics? What are the politics and economics of the communities where you teach?
  5. WHY do YOU teach history? This is self-explanatory. Why do you teach the subject? Is it to empower young people, particularly those whose histories and experiences are erased from textbooks and mainstream narratives? Do you teach history to maintain and elevate the erasure of those marginalized histories and experiences? Do you teach history because that’s the best job you could do, or because you couldn’t find anything better, or because you think that it’s easy, or because you failed at the career you actually wanted?

Answering these questions with deep reflection can help you see where you are on the scale and in what areas you must improve. It’ll also show whether or not you should continue teaching history. I would encourage all APs/VPs, curriculum supervisors, and history department leads to complete this or a similar exercise with your history department. This exercise can serve as the foundation to build a more inclusive and well-rounded approach to teaching history to your students.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

Complete the 5 W’s of Teaching Reflection for History Worksheet Here – The 5 Ws 


3 thoughts on “Teaching History Part 1: Motivation

  1. What an insightful article! History deserves its story to be told. Not only what do you teach but how you present that truth. I think we have grownup in a very heavy Eurocentrix environment that I try and show that not all of it is black and white! Nice article


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