A Teacher Reflects on Montpelier
July 30, 2014—Great educators are always looking for ways to improve their craft and for additional resources to bring into their classroom. Perhaps even more important, however, is the fact that most teachers are life-long learners who are driven by their curiosity and their love of the subject that they teach. In pursuing opportunities for professional growth, I was directed to a seminar in one of the most unexpected places: Montpelier, the home of James Madison.
I had no idea what to expect during my first visit to the Center for the Constitution at Montpelier, but my repeated experiences here have greatly surpassed my expectations. With each seminar I’ve attended, I have been surrounded by like-minded colleagues (almost entirely made up of secondary social studies teachers) and guided by professors, scholars, and other experts in the field of American Constitutionalism. Throughout the seminar, participants take part in lectures, discussions, guided tours, and other activities designed to enhance our understanding of the American Constitution and our political system.
In July I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar on “The Presidency and the Constitution” led by Professor Benjamin Kleinerman. During the course of the seminar we participated in a series of discussions and interactive lectures that detailed the creation and evolution of the presidency throughout American history with special attention given to original ideals as laid out by the Framers of our Constitution. Later we were given a tour of the Montpelier mansion, which focused on James Madison’s role in the creation of the Constitution as it related to the content of the seminar. Throughout our time at the Center we were challenged to think critically about these issues and share our thoughts with the scholars and our colleagues.
What always amazes me during my visits to Montpelier are the complexities of these issues and the sheer volume of what we don’t know. I and the rest of my colleagues have been studying and teaching American history and the Constitution for a number of years, and while we are not lawyers or judges we surely must be among the most well informed citizens in regards to these issues in the general population. I always come away impressed from these weekends in the quality and intelligence of my fellow participants; interacting and discussing constitutional issues with other teachers is always among the most enjoyable aspects of visiting the Center.
The seminars that take place here serve as great way for us to gain new insights into teaching our subjects along with a way to refresh our love of this material. We as social studies educators play a critical role in the health and future of our democracy. The Center for the Constitution allows us to become students again in a subject that we love, and then to find ways to integrate into our classrooms for our own students. In the current climate of standardized testing and new standards, the Center for the Constitution provides educators with a different perspective and new ways to encourage our students to think critically about our government and our Constitution. My trips to Montpelier have served as an invaluable resource that I would encourage every social studies teacher to experience.