“So that’s the broadsword John Brown’s son used in the raid at Harper’s Ferry? Are you kidding me??” ~A scene from my first day at CHS.
From the moment I set foot inside the building, I knew I was in for a truly special experience working at CHS as an education intern. The behind the scenes tour of the museum collection is a fitting place to begin my story, because it reinforced what I already knew about history museums; that is, that they preserve the past, and that they often have incredible artifacts, painstakingly protected for posterity’s sake. However, if there is one thing I have learned in my time here, it is that museums like CHS do not simply safeguard stories and mummify the memories of decades long gone. Rather, they can act as vibrant spaces for discovery and inquiry where the past comes to life before our very eyes.
As someone whose background is in classroom teaching, my experiences at CHS opened my eyes to the unique benefits of museum education. I have had the opportunity to learn about, and to practice, cutting edge techniques including process drama and Visual Thinking Strategies. Working closely with experienced museum educators has granted me a twofold reward. First, it has broadened my view of what good social studies education should be, and it has informed how I will teach in the classroom. Second, it has reinforced my desire to bring students to CHS, and to museums like it, in the future. Whether one hears the gasps of wonder and awe from a second grade class during a “Native Americans and Natural Resources” program, or the more subdued, “Oh wow!”, of older students sifting through the collection with help from the erudite members of the Research Center staff, it is abundantly clear that this place is a great gift to the classroom teacher.
While I can’t say that it was always an easy experience, I know that my time here has helped me to grow as an educator. There was quite a lot to learn, and honestly, I’m still learning. As someone who aims to teach 7-12th grade, it was a very different undertaking teaching 1st graders. In that situation, you quickly realize that your instincts and your training might not exactly fit the bill. However, with the aid and encouragement of the outstanding CHS educators, I learned on my feet, and with practice, I have become much more comfortable teaching students of all ages. Now, I absolutely love it! I can appreciate that unique dynamic and youthful sense of curiosity so much more now than I did at the start of this year.
I also had to learn a great deal about Connecticut’s local history. Prudence Punderson, Curtis Veeder, James Pennington… these names didn’t mean much to me seven months ago. Yet now, here I stand, armed with an arsenal of local stories to bring the broad narrative of history to life for Connecticut students. What better way is there to teach history than from your own backyard? I can think of none other.
Stephen Bak is an intern in the Education Department at the Connecticut Historical Society