A week ago today, I was just finishing my first full day of Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute (CWTI). We had been on the James River and I visited the land where our first successful colony was established in the early 1600s. I learned about Jamestown Jane and the crazy history of Jamestown's capital being burned several times. I saw the church where Pocahontas was married. It was amazing! Throughout the week, we met different people from the past: Mr. Wythe, Mr. Prentis, Lady Dunmore, Martha Washington, Nat Turner, and others. I even got a private 15 minute meeting with young Thomas Jefferson! I watched as wigmakers, weavers, wheelwrights, silversmiths, joiners, and others worked trades. I visited the Governor's Palace, the capital building, the Wythe house, Wetherburn's tavern, and other beautiful buildings. We went to Yorktown and walked around the battle field where I learned how the Patriots and French forces were able to take over redoubts outside of town. I spent time reflecting at Surrender Field. We visited Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. We spent time participating in activities that I can use in my classroom. We talked and laughed and debated. It was truly life-changing.
As great as this all sounds (and it was), by the middle of day 2, my anxiety level was extremely high. I wasn't sure I fit in with all of these amazing educators. See, I went with middle school teachers who specialize in history. As an elementary teacher, I don't specialize in one subject; I teach them all and love all of them. It was overwhelming to say the least. They all knew so much more than I ever dreamt of knowing until then. They knew people and places and battles and so much! Here I was saying, "The Declaration was signed in 1776!" I felt very insecure about my background and wasn't sure I was in the right place, like maybe I should have been with the elementary group. Thankfully, my mom and so many friends on Facebook let me know that I deserved to be with these fabulous teachers. I kept praying that I would be able to keep it together and just enjoy what I could.
Turns out, other people there were also feeling overwhelmed. Not for the same reason, but we were all feeling uncertain at times. Not at the same times, but we were insecure and emotional at times. Lessons and interpreters moved us and stirred feelings in us we weren't expecting. Other teachers I spoke with also felt like they were behind the learning curve at times. I couldn't believe I was the only one who was struggling! At lunch on Monday, one participant was so kind and let me know that she was in awe that I had a background in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. She said she didn't know how I could keep up with all of those areas and do them all justice. Those statements made me stop and reevaluate what I was feeling. I took some time to think back to what we had done and looked through my notes. I could use everything I was learning so easily in my classroom. I had all day to weave them into my lessons. I was actually blessed!
Going to Williamsburg was eye opening. Being there. Experiencing it. Living it. Learning. Watching. Absorbing. Feeling. The people around me helped so much. I could hear ideas and thoughts and just work through them to make it work for my students.
One aspect of CWTI that I was not expecting was gratefulness. Every single presenter and speaker made a point to thank us. They thanked us for being a teacher and for being there learning. Two employees on the street noticed my name tag and stopped me. They shook my hand and let me know how grateful there are for being a teacher who wants my students to learn more. I teared up every single time one of them said thank you. Not everyone appreciates teachers and it was so powerful to hear the gratitude from every single person.
I had forgotten how much I love history and especially American history. The week of CWTI reminded me of how cool our history is. Even with all of the controversies and horrible events, we have an amazing history. I purchased artifacts and so many books or my students that I had an extra bag coming home. I also bought books for me and have ordered a couple more. I want to learn more about Martha Washington and John and Abigail Adams. I want to learn more about slavery in our early years. I want to know the stories of the people who built our country so I can share them with others.
Students need to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of our history. They need to learn to process all sides and think through all of it to come to a conclusion of their own based on facts. The stories need to be told so our students can understand our past in hopes of not letting it repeat. As a teacher, I have the responsibility to teach my students the stories and help them understand our country's story. I will do my part to help my students. Will you?