IN WHICH LOCAL HISTORY MAKES ME CRY

A small essay.
  1. So here's the thing about training to be a teacher—
  2. We center our work in the present.
  3. Unlike most areas of study—business, science, politics, literature—we don't enter our field with a hope of making something of ourselves.
  4. We don't do what we do with ambition.
  5. If we do think of the future, it's the future of our students, the future of our curriculum, the future of our educational infrastructure.
  6. You don't become a teacher with the hope of being remembered.
    (I mean on an academic/social-historical level. Because of course you hope your students will remember you.)
  7. We don't have much sense of history, either.
  8. Sure, we talk about eras of instruction—recitation vs progressivism—and the historic funding of private schools and the development of federal education laws.
  9. But there is little history of specific teachers in specific classrooms, so studying education historically often fails to capture the personal nature of the profession—individuals and their impacts are washed away with time.
  10. These two phenomena—little history and no future—can make me feel like I'm drowning in bureaucracy.
    Like what I'm doing is noble right now but will ultimately make little to no difference. And maybe that's true. But....
  11. But I've started doing this project where I'm looking into the historic African American educators of Harrisburg, PA.
  12. And this research is INCREDIBLE because not only does it celebrate the strong historical tie between the Black community and education—
    (That's a whole other list.)
  13. But it also puts me in touch with REAL TEACHERS.
  14. REAL MEN AND WOMEN. IN HISTORICAL CLASSROOMS. IN A CITY I KNOW AND LIVE CLOSE TO.
  15. I am sitting in my room reading the names of individuals—
  16. Joseph Bustill,
    Teacher and Underground Railroad conductor, 1850s-60s
  17. John P. Scott,
    Teacher at Wickersham, principal at Calder, and community civil rights leader in the early 1900s.
  18. Anne V. Crowl,
    Principal, Wickersham, 1910
  19. Georgiana Potter,
    Teacher, Downey, 1918
  20. Karl Hope,
    The first African American secondary teacher hired by Harrisburg schools, later member of the PA Department of Education
  21. Alfreda Askew Johnson.
    The first female African American secondary teacher hired by Harrisburg schools
  22. That's just to name a few.
  23. I've never experienced local history like this before.
  24. I've never understood how important it is to have records of who people were and where people were and what people did at an intimate regional level.
  25. And I've never felt this kind of long-term hope for my career before.
  26. My classroom will matter.
  27. It will matter not only to the students in it, not only to the parents connected to it, but also to the historians and to the future educators of my home city in decades and centuries to come.
  28. I'm choking up as I write this because I never knew this was possible before.
  29. I didn't realize that I have strong, deep, historical roots in my profession, roots that I can honor as I move forward as a teacher.
  30. And I hope that wherever I am, wherever I teach—
  31. that I will be a credit to those who came before me and to those who will follow after me.