As a student, I’ve had some great history teachers. As a history teacher myself, I’ve had some great mentors. And now I get the chance to watch great history teachers from the perspective of a curriculum specialist.

Jim Tamako was a high school teacher back during the late 70s (Yes, I am that old!) who really got me hooked on history by forcing me into intellectually uncomfortable positions. I loved the challenge of trying to figure stuff out. Lately, I’ve had the chance to sit in with teachers like TJ Warsnak and Jim Robb and watch them do similar things with their kids.

It got me thinking. After all of these years, what have I really learned? Well, a bunch of stuff actually. But I narrowed it down to five things:

Be open-minded

This one is perhaps the most important. I need to be willing to look at an issue from a variety of angles and really think critically about the data.

Go to the source

The great teachers I’ve had all said the same thing – get the raw data. Use other interpretations of the data but be sure to use primary sources as much as possible.

Ask good questions

This one was pretty easy for me. I have always asked questions but what I needed was help in framing good, historical questions. To think the way Sam Wineburg outlines in Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts – the ability to see relationships, to evaluate, to compare and to go back and start over.

Communicate clearly

This is still difficult for me! How can I best share what I believe? Great history teachers have given me the chance to practice and learn this.

Understand change

Why can’t things stay the same? By studying and talking about people and place and dates and all the other stuff history teachers normally make us memorize, I can see change as normal, as something to understand and integrate rather than fight.


Okay, I lied. Just one more.

History is great fun!

Why do you think so many people read history books & watch history movies when they get out of school? Because when done well, history is just way too much fun.

I’ve learned a lot from the great history teachers in my life. What have they taught you?