Shelton Intermediate School, CT
In 2003, Carolyn was named the CWPT Preservationist Teacher of the Year. In addition, Carolyn develops, authors, and presents a variety of historical programs for various organizations and serves as a resource for local history initiatives. She is committed to bringing history and social studies educational programs beyond the classroom and into the community. Proud of her continued involvement and membership in Civil War Preservation Trust, Carolyn calls CWPT “the finest historical preservation organization in our nation”.
Q: What is your philosophy of teaching?
CI: As a teacher there are three things that make you successful and help you connect with your students. First, be passionate about your subject. I am passionate about U.S. History and the Civil War. These are the greatest subjects because they teach students who we are as Americans and help them understand themselves. Second, be caring. Students always know when you care about them and respect them. This helps you form bonds which allow students to open up to you and to what you are teaching. Third, be willing to share every day. Share your knowledge, your time, and your life with your students. They will reciprocate many times over.
Q: How did you get into teaching and where has your career path led you?
CI: I came to teaching later than most. I had to put myself through school if I wanted to go to college so I went to work right out of high school. While going to school full time at night, I worked as an executive secretary at General Electric. First I earned degrees in History and in Business Administration, and then a master’s degree in education. High school was what I always wanted to teach, so I went back to Shelton High School and taught both business and social studies. But my true calling was U.S. History and I took any class I could get in that subject.
Q: How did you become interested in American history?
CI: I loved history from the very beginning and it’s a great part of my daily life and will be forever. I can honestly say that like Thomas Jefferson that I cannot live without my books. Some of the first words my father taught me were “Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln freed the slaves”. It amused him when he would get me to say that to people as a toddler - they were always astonished. It wasn’t too long before I wanted to really understand what those words meant.
Growing up in Shelton, CT, I was always fascinated with the woods and the Native Americans before us. We had one of the greatest amateur archeologists in the Northeast in our town. His name was Mr. Dorso and he always did programs for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in his basement. His collection was awesome and all from local digs he had done himself.
Q: How do you make history/social studies relevant and exciting to your students?
CI: I like to see diversity in lessons, a lot of activity. Hands-on learning is the way to go. It helps kids learn and remember things by engaging them. Kids love to go places. Field trips are great experiences.
I really believe that you need to be able to engage kids in a classroom when you speak with them. History is the greatest story in the world. The events of history can be stranger and more compelling than fiction. But you have to know how to communicate that to your students. You need a depth to your knowledge in order to engage them - and then help them make connections between history and their own lives and experiences. This makes learning authentic and meaningful.
Q: How did you become interested in Civil War battlefields and preservation?
CI: We traveled to historic places ever since I can remember. I became interested in Civil War Battlefields by visiting them. The places where Americans fought and died for this nation are absolutely precious to us as a country. Finally, they’re being recognized as a very finite and fragile resource. I joined CWPT many years ago because even then I was disturbed by encroachment and the potentially destructive development that surrounds our hallowed ground. Our battlefields are the open air classrooms of the conflict that almost destroyed and ultimately saved our nation. Any thoughtful American must realize that the land deserves the protection of a grateful nation. We need to realize that memory, honor, and our national identify are embedded in that land. CWPT has done a great job in preservation and deserves all the support our legislators, educators and citizens can give in its mission.
Q: How can a teacher incorporate preservation into their teaching and still meet state standards?
CI: I believe that preservation activities create opportunities for students to really become involved in the social studies curriculum. There are so many aspects to preservation for kids to explore: citizenship, activism, community involvement. CWPT’s curriculum has wonderful preservation activities for students and for effectively incorporating preservation into teaching. This should create opportunities to meet state standards, not conflict with them.
Q: Now that you are involved in school administration, how do you continue to stay involved in history education?
CI: I’m still involved in working with teachers and students in what I call “classroom connections”. Many times I’m asked to “co-teach” or present student programs from various periods in history - especially the Civil War. Historical programming allows me to stay actively engaged in the community and many of our local historical societies. I’m deeply committed to participating in and offering professional development for our teachers - in creating connections between the school and community. I’ve been involved in writing grants for school, community, and local historical initiatives. And I participate in several local consortiums that write and publish local history lesson plans and activities. \
Q: What professional development or continuing education would you suggest to other teachers?
CI: Read, travel if you can, network with your colleagues. So many mandated teacher professional development sessions are not about continuing education at all. We can all relate to being trapped in irrelevant professional development experiences that are meaningless to the subjects we teach or our daily lives! I think the best professional development is content based. So few of our experiences deepen content knowledge. Teachers’ learning needs are just like our students. We long to be engaged in meaningful, relevant education and that means we need many more content-based offerings than we are getting. Content, like character, counts!\
Q: What advice do you have for other history teachers?
CI: Read, and read a lot. Know your subject. Don’t become discouraged because social studies education is taking a back seat to math and science. Years ago, it was history that was considered the most important subject. This was because history helps us understand who we were as Americans and how precious our national heritage - with all its blemishes - is.
When you teach history you help your students understand who they are and what it means to be an American. We help our students understand how to be good and tolerant citizens. Each of us needs to help our students know - and remember - how many generations before us sacrificed so that we could have the greatest lives in the world. We need to know who we are and where we are going. Knowing our own history guides us and helps us make right choices as a nation. We history teachers are entrusted with a curriculum that is more relevant and important than any other - whether our subject is on “the test” or not.