Teaching The History of Thanksgiving: Are We Doing It Right?

Growing up I was taught the history of Thanksgiving in school, just like many of you. The stories were about cornucopias, planting corn, peaceful dinners, and interactions of the Native Americans (referenced as Indians at the time) and the Americans. It was a great story that left us all feeling satisfied and happy with the ending, understanding why we all sit around the table every Thanksgiving Day with our families and eat food. 

And then one day I learned more about the true history behind Thanksgiving, as I’m sure most of you did too. If you haven’t yet, just do a quick Google search and it’ll give you a deep dive of information. I distinctly remember that day in my college class when I learned the true, brutal history of Thanksgiving and how betrayed I felt learning that I had been withheld from the truth. It made me think of the reason behind the misinformation given. Here were the few I came up with. 

  1. Because my teachers were genuinely misinformed. They hadn’t taken the time to research it themselves, they just trusted the curriculum placed before them and went with it. And we can’t blame them for that! Have you ever thought about researching long division and questioning if it really works or the history behind it? No! 
  2. Our schools teach American Exceptionalism in their curriculum. They want students growing up thinking we as a country are the most exceptional and incredible at everything we do. So this means hiding history. 
  3. I think in a way it’s also their mindset that they are “protecting” students by shielding them from the violence and bad things of the world. That if we teach only good things, that’s how our society will continue to act. 

But is this the right way? Information is incredible for teachers, it would be beneficial to research the history before teaching it. And it’s okay to admit that our country isn’t the best at everything! For example, if you Google search “Which country has the most advanced health care?”, you’ll get multiple lists all with various answers, but it’s important to note that The United States is not even in the top 5 of the majority of these lists. It’s okay to admit that we aren’t the best in health care (or education, or transportation, or anything else!), because it’s a good learning opportunity for our country to receive information from those that are better at it than we are. 

And is it really doing our students any good to protect them from the truth? I know for me, it didn’t “protect” me from anything, it just made me feel betrayed and lied to once I did learn the truth. There’s power in learning about our harsh pasts of the country because we as a society can recognize the mistakes and learn from them so they aren’t repeated again. 

This video does a great job of giving a quick (real) history of Thanksgiving:

What are your thoughts on teaching the true history of Thanksgiving in classrooms? 

Historical Teaching

When I was in school, my absolute least favorite subject was history. Ugh. Every year I received my school schedule (back when it was mailed to you, not just found online), and would roll my eyes when I saw my history class. It didn’t matter what type of history! U.S. history, World History, Ancient history. Nope. I just couldn’t stand any of them! 

Until one day… 

I walked into my American History class in 10th grade to a teacher that was new to the school. She sat at the front of the classroom like she meant business, and I respected that but also went in with the knowledge that I already hated her class and everything she taught. The first few weeks were just getting to know the classroom and procedures, but eventually, we got into the thick of American History. 

This time the history I was learning was different… I actually cared and enjoyed it. 

No, this couldn’t be right! I hated learning about history! But this time when we got into each different unit, I cared about the people and their background and what they had done for our country. What changed? Had I suddenly become a history guru?? 

Here’s what I noticed. I was caring about the Wild West and the California Gold Rush because my teacher cared about it. She had a light in her eyes when she taught that she genuinely loved what she was teaching, and passed that passion along to us. 

She cared about her students. 

She cared about the content she was teaching. 

She didn’t just recite historical facts to us, she told us stories about history. 

She made me realize that learning and teaching about history and social studies can be exciting and more than facts. It can be full of story telling and looking up to idols, not just memorizing dates and people. 

She also taught me a new way of teaching, that we aren’t there solely to cram information into student’s brains, but to build relationships and have them learn to love the material as much as we do. All because she cared. 

Check out this TedTalk about teaching history in the 21st century.

Sincerely, Your Substitute Teacher

Dear Teachers, 

We see you. We see the work you put in. We see the sacrifice you make in providing your classroom with materials paid for out of your pocket. We see the extra janitorial work you do before, after, and even during class. We respect the amount of time you put into the learning of these students, spending hours before and after class writing lesson plans, making anchor charts, calling parents, and prepping for upcoming days. 

When we walk through your classroom we see smiles on your student’s faces. We see their excitement for learning and how hard you’ve worked to get them to this point. Your love and respect for your students are tangible by the way they talk so highly of you. We see how much you care about them too by the work you’ve put into each detail, their personalized name tags, the extra study chart you made when you realized they didn’t quite grasp concepts right away. We see it in the way you leave us notes about specific kids and their behaviors we need to be aware of- the students who are more difficult or the students who are big helpers. You know them, you know who they are and what they need. We see the sticky notes you leave for yourself about upcoming community events your students are in or the reminders for passing out those extra homework papers you’ve made at least 5 copies of this week since they all seem to mysteriously disappear in backpacks. 

We know you’re still an excellent teacher even though you had to take a sick day, or a personal day for conferences, vacation, or to visit family. We know you miss your students just as much as they miss you. We see what an accepting and inviting culture you’ve created in your classroom by the need your students feel to have you back.

We as substitute teachers are privileged to enter your classroom for sometimes as little as a few hours a day. We are given a tiny window of your space and we respect your noble work. So teachers, dear teachers, we see you. We respect you, and we are proud of you. Keep doing the great work you are doing, because you are the best teacher for this classroom. 

Sincerely, 

Your Substitute Teacher 

What If Inquiry-Based Teaching Isn’t Always The Right Answer?

Inquiry-based learning has become more of a common practice throughout schools. It encourages asking questions, thinking deeper, and applying the material to personal lives. Inquiry-based learning is flexible because the student is the leader for where the conversation and learning leads. It can have higher engagement because the student can take the material where they want it to go. 

This type of learning is so beneficial in some studies. However, are there times when inquiry-based isn’t best? What are the parameters for inquiry-based versus direct instruction? 

Teamwork and group projects are where inquiry-based flourishes, students can collaborate, ask questions, and use the skills developed in inquiry learning to look deeper into the subject. 

Science lessons based on experiment and discovering new ideas is also a great platform for inquiry. 

Discussions on subjects are where inquiry-based can blossom. Promoting questions with long or different answers can assist in deeper inquiry, instead of direct, one-word answer questions. 

However, are there times inquiry-based learning isn’t the best way? Where does direct instruction fit into the school day? Here is a great rule of thumb- throw out inquiry-based as soon as you see a student struggling. It’s important to note that struggle is good when using inquiry because it can lead to more learning breakthroughs for the student. The struggle that causes red flags is the kids who are constantly struggling, the kids on a lower reading level than their peers, or the ones who cannot seem to grasp the concept enough to participate in these discussions. This is where direct instruction needs to happen. 

Imagine a struggling child who is constantly poked and prodded with questions about letters and sounds in order for them to inquire more about it, eventually leading to them knowing what the letter names and sounds are. If they are already behind, more inquiring isn’t going to help them. It’s a powerful tool to directly tell them what something is and how it functions over and over until it clicks. Once they can grasp this complex concept, they can continue to move up and work on each concept until eventually, they can participate in inquiry discussions. 

Sometimes, kids don’t need more questions, they just need direct information. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for inquiry-based learning, and plan to write more on the subject matter. But I am also an advocate for doing what is best for the student. 

What is your rule of thumb for direct versus inquiry learning? 

Let’s All Remember Our Heroes This Veterans Day

Veterans Day is on Monday, and with any important holiday, a great picture book is a must. It doesn’t matter if your students are 2-year-olds in a daycare, or 18 years old in college, a powerful, informative picture book can always be applicable when used correctly. 

Veterans Day is now more widely known as, “Head over to our stores for our 50% off Veterans Day sale” It has become a commercial holiday used to boost sales and place the United States flags on their ads as if that honors the men and woman that served our country in some way. Veterans Day is so much more than a 50% off sale and needs to be treated that way as well. 

It’s a day to celebrate and remember those who gave their all, sometimes even their lives, so that we can continue to live in peace and comfort we have today. It’s remembering those families that suffered weeks and months without their dads, or the kids who attended their first day of school without their mom because they had parents serving across seas. It’s a chance to feel empathy for the families who have packed up and moved so many times in a year that they have lost track of what cities they’ve lived in. It’s a holiday all of us need to remember a little more. 

I have read multiple books on Veterans Day, and after all of my readings, one book sticks out to me because of the emotional pull it brought out as I read. America’s White Table by Margot Theis Raven goes through everything placed at the White Table, the rose, the lemon, the chair, and more, then explains what it represents and why. 

Katie, the young girl in the story helping her mom set the White Table, is told a story of her uncle who served in the war and ended up as a Prisoner of War (POW) but eventually was able to escape and help a friend escape as well. Hearing his emotional story helped Katie see the importance of the white table. 

“It was just a little white table… but it felt as big as America when we helped Mama put each item on it and she told us why it was so important.”

-America’s White Table

I was somewhat ashamed to find out after reading this picture book that I did not know what each of the items on the White Table was for, I just knew it represented a solider somehow. Let’s change this for our students that also do not know the purpose of the white table. Let’s not just teach out kids numbers and letters, let’s teach them about our heroes of this country this Veterans Day. 

A few other great Veterans Day books: 

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh

H Is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet by Devin Scillian

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay 

How do you honor Veterans Day in your classroom? 

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