Teacher Testimonials

Teacher Reflections from the 2018 Summer Institute

In their evaluations, teachers commented on how the institute changed them personally and how it will change their teaching.

Before this institute, I thought I challenged the common narrative of the American Civil Rights Movement. As a result of previous courses and professors, I was thoughtful and intentional about acknowledging the complicated story, including the important role of women, and going deeper than the well-known “leaders” of the struggle.

The reality is, however, that I still need to dig deeper — personally and with my students. Hasan Jeffries turned my style upside down forcing me to re-imagine the narrative while Danielle McGuire insisted that I examine how I teach women and sexual assault in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Adriane Lentz reminded me that there are still more stories to tell, introducing black soldiers from World War I and Charles Payne argued that “by not talking about the servants, we make it possible to create a larger, louder counter-narrative that is not inclusive.”

The videos, speakers, and stories opened a whole new world for me — one in which I thought I had a grasp of and now realize I know little about.

This Institute has re-framed my entire approach to teaching U.S. history. The talk by Hasan Jeffries compelled me to re-examine the arc of my course at the macro and micro levels, to explicitly highlight resistance and humanity.

This Institute had BY FAR the most impressive collection of scholars and speakers of any I have ever heard of, much less attended. Bob Korstad was a wonderful host, and the skillful co-facilitation by Deborah Menkart of Teaching for Change and Judy Richardson, a veteran of the civil rights movement made this a rich and joyful learning experience. Standout visiting faculty included Charles Payne, Danielle McGuire, Charles Cobb, Courtland Cox, Jennifer Lawson, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and Emilye Crosby.

Beyond the many resources and insights that will certainly enhance my teaching in a practical way, the institute has reaffirmed my commitment to teaching as activism. I have always seen my professional role as a change agent, and spending time with so many other committed activist teachers is a crucial step forward for anti-racist work in our schools and communities. I’m invigorated to retry unsuccessful attempts to organize colleagues; try new strategies to gain support for this work in my school; and revamp my curriculum to expand the thinking of my students on these essential topics.

It was powerful to take advantage of living history (SNCC veterans), so any opportunity to bridge academia and people who have direct experience with historic events would make a great institute (counterculture/anti-war movement, beat generation, the war on drugs, Reaganomics).

This was one of the best professional development activities I have ever attended. [Although I was] coming into this institute with what I believed was a solid understanding of Black history, race, and racism, this institute has deepened my understanding of the history and impact of racism in the United States. It taught me that the academic history of the Black freedom movement — and really the academia of everything — can never just be academic because ideas impact people. I am reentering my classroom this fall with a restored and greater humility around my work with Black and Brown students and the history of our nation.

Every single director and visiting faculty member was OUTSTANDING. Each guest presented something different and important. It was especially meaningful to learn from so many different Movement veterans first hand. I was constantly honored and awed to be in their presence. My teacher colleagues were also among some of the best educators I have ever worked with.

This NEH seminar should definitely be offered again! It was outstanding.

This institute was one of the best professional developments, if not THE best, I have ever attended. The list of scholars presented was probably the most prestigious lineup of historians and scholars ever assembled! I learned much about the civil rights movement and freedom struggle that I did not already know, and I have focused almost all my selected professional development on the CRM.

As a white teacher teaching mostly black students, I also gained a lot of insight into the dynamics of race and white supremacy as it impacts people of color, and that will definitely change my classroom culture and my perspective immensely.

The visiting faculty was unbelievable and the directors did an amazing job of facilitating our sessions, field trips, and other activities. All topics were extremely relevant, and almost every activity gave me something useful as a teacher and a continuous learner.

The experience was extremely valuable on an intellectual and personal level. We learned so much about the history of the Movement and also meaningful dialogue about what it means to add justice in our classrooms and communities (mostly due to how great the participants were to talk about how the history influences the present).

I was inspired each day by the speakers, and I feel like I FINALLY have a somewhat deep and thorough understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

The directors were extremely committed to making this a transformative experience (and they all balanced each other out well). The visiting faculty was INCREDIBLE because, for the most part, they were extremely thoughtful and important people who were also humble and inspiring. The colleagues were also for the most part deeply inspiring. I felt like there was a shared sense of commitment to doing the work of racial justice and doing it well. There could have been more discussions and debriefing and talking about pedagogy but the content and the overall impact was nothing short of spectacular.

The experience was truly unbelievable — the level of scholarship and personal experience was astounding. I learned a great deal from this program, including:

      • the history of organizing during and after WWI
      • Ella Baker’s philosophy of leadership
      • the role of sexual violence against black women in the movement
      • the vital leadership of women in the grassroots movement
      • how landowners helped protect SNCC organizers
      • the psychological value of freedom songs
      • how unions contributed to organization
      • the police’s complicity with the Greensboro massacre in 1979
      • the infrastructure of the black community during the Montgomery Bus Boycott
      • the debate over the methods of freedom schools
      • how violence was legitimately used by SNCC
      • how to be more thoughtful as a white educator
      • the role children played in the movement
      • how white people viewed the movement
      • the importance of humanizing history at all times
      • the double standard in media outrage at college shootings
      • SNCC’s use of comic books to help organize
      • the international agenda of SNCC.

My scholarship on the movement has exponentially increased over the past 3 weeks, and I’ve already purchased books by Charles Payne and Frantz Fanon to read when I get home. My teaching will include a more accurate narrative of the movement and sensitivity to difficult topics for students.

This seminar was life changing. It deeply altered the way I think about Civil Rights history, it deepened my teaching practice, and it connected me with teachers of the highest quality from all over the country that I will continue to build with.

This institute was “the perfect storm,” for lack of better words. I feel as if I’m part of a new family. We are already making plans to visit each other.

The institute has helped me think about a better way to convey certain ideas to my students: social justice, oppressed peoples, power, the fight for equality, the need for respect. I’m definitely going to further engage both my students and my co-workers in issues concerning race relations in the US.

I want to use a certain vision in coordinating with students to create a presentation our black student body can be proud of. I cannot wait to share in the responsibility which I learned from Dr. Payne, is part of my job as a human being, of bringing my white counterparts to the light when they generalize, disengage, or remain blissfully ignorant.

This institute has changed me in multiple ways. It has changed the way I think about history and the people and stories we traditionally learn about in school. It has changed the way I think about social justice in schools and led me to understand what we need in my district, school, and classroom. This has also made me reconsider the way I view history as content, in addition to the experience.

It has made me think about the importance of humanity in our work and making learning a living space for myself and students. This institute has changed the way I will teach in the future through a better understanding of how to approach hard history in an appropriate and effective way. Beyond this, I know I cannot walk away from hard and uncomfortable conversations, be that with my students or with my staff which has inherently changed the way I view those situations — they are not optional, but opportunities for growth, learning, and change.

The guest speakers we had were phenomenal! I feel so lucky to have been able to hear from them. Each speaker continued to get better and better. They focused on a myriad of topics and were interesting to hear from and speak with.

One of my favorite speakers was Danielle McGuire who discussed the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a women’s movement issue which totally unhinged all the learning and understanding I believed I had before about this moment in the movement.

Dr. Adrian Lentz-Smith began the program by detailing the activism happening prior to the 1940s which did away with my prior minimizing of the movement to a decade in the 1960s.

Our trip to the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum, coupled with our visit to the Reconciliation Center there, again, gave me insight to events and people previously left out of my own history education.

None of this would have been possible, in a few different ways, without the directors we had. Without Deborah’s Teaching for Change knowledge and excellence, we might not have had as much access or exposure to varying curriculum or resources. Without Judy’s insight on SNCC and its legacy, we wouldn’t have had such a unique and awesome perspective from someone directly involved. Finally, without Bob, [we wouldn’t have] expertise of the activism within the union in NC.

My teaching will change 180 degrees. I have never had a formal teacher education process. I never did student teaching, and I kind of just stumbled into the class and have been making it up as I go along. I feel like I have earned another degree in these three weeks. I am more prepared to go into the classroom than I have been in 10 years.

I loved the concept of teaching history through the humanity of Black people. I will extend this to women and children as well that are specific to my content.

The institute grew me! I have stepped out of everything that I thought I knew and I have been expanded. I feel more confident in teaching a narrative based on real people and their stories and not the mythical characterizations of history that focus on a protagonist and an antagonist.

I have changed because I now see my classroom as a platform for change. In very practical ways I can inspire my students. I feel more equipped to teach my content. I have decided to seriously teach for change and be more of a community-based historian.

The visiting faculty could not have been more competent and available to the cohorts. In addition, the level of attention they gave to us individually is seldom seen in many NEH programs. The confidence that the directors held in us allowed the program to evolve over time as this was critical to its success.

Judy Richardson’s contributions were simply above excellence. Her wit and her encyclopedia mind made connecting to the material effortless.

Deborah Menkart, as always, made the great effort to bring scholars and presenters into one place seem effortless.

I felt that the topics stayed within not only the historical points of interest but also increased to meet the needs of the participants. Danielle, McGuire, Mary Williams, Hasan Jeffries, and Daphne Chamberlain were absolutely amazing scholars that provided expertise, wit, and commitment to equipping teachers with the knowledge and pedagogical practices to bring the CRM from fading photographs to the vividness of 21st-century classrooms.

This institute has completely transformed how I think I about the Civil Rights Movement and ultimately how I am going to teach it in the classroom. I have a network of people to reach out to when I have questions.

I have received so many resources to use for teaching this hard history. I am more excited than I ever have been to be a teacher. I have renewed love for teaching and for history. I have been inspired.

Questions that I have had for years have been answered. I am a part of the movement that will change the way history is being taught and preserved.

We are making history. I am making history. I am inspired, motivated, excited. I am honored to have had the opportunity to meet and speak with so many amazing movers and shakers of the movement. Words cannot express how happy this program has made me feel. I am so very grateful for this opportunity.

Everything was well prepared from the selection of presenters down to the daily activities. Everything was intentional. The presentations were wonderful. They were filled with great information. Each presentation changed me, inspired me to want to learn even more and teach better.

This institute has changed my life. It is the best professional development experience I’ve ever had. It has connected me to activist teachers who empowered me to nurture the activist teacher within me. An “activist teacher” is someone who educates and organizes around social justice and connects their teaching to the communities, families, and struggles of their students.

This institute has broadened my perspective on the Civil Rights Movement, not only as historical content but as a lived experience that continues to the present day. As a result of the institute, I am more aware of the power of the language I use in the classroom and resources I use to teach history.

The grassroots perspectives, strategies, and philosophies of SNCC leaders have given me a social justice framework to incorporate into my pedagogy as I return to the classroom with renewed hope and sense of purpose.

In the words of Hasan Kwame Jeffries, to effectively teach hard history, I must know my grassroots history, know myself, know my students and know my students’ families and communities.

Deborah Menkart was an outstanding director in terms of curriculum expertise, facilitation of schedule, response to feedback and sensitivity to the emotional nature of the content.

Judy Richardson was an outstanding director in terms of having lived the history we were studying. Her knowledge as an SNCC veteran was an invaluable resource.

Bob Korstad was also an excellent director in terms of his role as a faculty at Duke University. He was great with logistics and content expertise, knowing when to step up and step back.

Every single visiting faculty was outstanding, especially Charles Payne, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and Danielle McGuire.

This institute was both life-changing and life-affirming. So well thought out and so well planned. It is unimaginable that I would have the opportunity to meet, talk, and have conversations with so many actual SNCC veterans and experts in the field of Civil Rights. The quality of the lecturers/speakers was phenomenal. They were so knowledgeable. I learned so much.