Why do you want to teach History?

So, the question is inevitably asked of every college student or grad student who seeks to become a teacher: Why do you want to become a teacher? Why do you want to teach in your discipline? What or who inspired you to become a teacher? And, what do you hope to accomplish as a teacher? The first two are easy, the last one is hard. For me, the second question is the easiest, so I’ll answer that one first.

Why do you want to teach in your discipline?

A history teacher takes everything that has happened in the past and, like a blender, mixes it together and comes up with a single picture of what has happened.

You can have your math, you can have your sciences, you can have all your other subjects, but a history teacher takes all those subjects and wraps them up into one package and teaches it. Math? Talk to me about Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi or Pascal. Physics? How ’bout Einstein and Galileo. Medicine? Pasteur and Koch. Politics? Constantine, Napoleon, and Jefferson. Economics? Keynes and Adam Smith. Psychology? Freud and Pavlov. Philosophy? Aristotle and Plato. Oh, and lest I forget – English? Shakespeare and Chaucer or Hemingway and L’Amour.

You look at those names and say, “well yeah, but that’s history.” Yeah, I know and that’s why I love it. It influences everything and is influenced by everything; weather, people, issues, demographics, geography, scientific discoveries – everything. If a person has any interest in anything in life at all, I can point her to a place in history and show her how she is actually a fan of history. History is the embodiment of our lives and our cultures. It is behind it all and the sum total of it all.

When a student wants to be a astronomer, he doesn’t start out to discover if the sun rotates around the earth because it has already been determined that the earth rotates around the sun. If he didn’t know the history of his chosen discipline, he would not be a good astronomer. Likewise for a doctor, he wouldn’t be a good doctor if he tried to research the discovery of bacteria. What makes a good doctor or good astronomer is that they know the history of their profession and discipline so they can build upon those discoveries and increase the field of knowledge for the betterment of mankind. In the same way, a fashion designer becomes a great fashion designer when she knows the history of her field in order to develop fashion in a way that is pleasing and eye-catching.

History is not just about Lexington and Concord, Gettysburg, President Hoover, the Battle of the Bulge, or the Civil Rights Act. It is about all these different collective events that go together to make us who we are. It is Elvis Presley, it is the bootlegger wars of the ’20s and the development of Hollywood; it is Bell yelling, “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you,” and how those nine words have developed into the telecommunications technology we have today! It is what is happening today and what you are doing today. It is the story of the donut, McDonalds, hair styles, fashion, business, and sports – it is the story of our culture and other world cultures.

Those are the best reasons I can give you that I want to teach in my chosen discipline.

Why did you want to teach in your chosen discipline?

Tune in tomorrow for the answer to the second (or first, depending on how you’re counting it) question.


One response

  1. I love the reasons you’ve selected for teaching history. And it’s true, to know history, you’ve got to know a little of everything. I tell all of my students at the beginning of the year when they take me that I am a CULTURAL HISTORY TEACHER. I focus on how culture impacts history and impacts us. History DIRECTLY applies to everything we do today. I’m so excited that YOU are my colleague.

    I got into education to “change the world” . . .I realize that was an extremely lofty goal. Now, I think my perspectives are changing. Working in an urban area does that to you. . .I think maybe my goal, now is to inspire my students and encourage them to see how fun learning is.

    Thanks Miss A! I’m glad to have you as my colleague also. I look forward to an exchange of ideas and learning from your experience in what is now your…fourth year? or is it fifth? I would love to sit in on your classroom sometime if I was ever in your area.


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