1. Could you tell us about your involvement with NCSS and International Assembly (IA)?
I have been an NCSS member for a number of years and have recently come to work with IA. As a language arts teacher, my presentations for NCSS have included integrated curriculum with the 6th grade social studies teacher at my school, a model that has worked well for us as we try to broaden and deepen skills and understanding across these subject areas. When I submitted proposals to NCSS this year for the annual conference, our curriculum around immigration and book groups was accepted for presentation in the general conference, and I was excited when reviewers passed my proposal to present on my Fulbright research over to IA for their consideration. I will be presenting “Decolonizing Our Schools with Difficult History: Fulbright Research in Aotearoa/New Zealand “ at a roundtable discussion for IA on Friday, November 22 at 1:30.
2. You were a Fulbright Scholar. What is it like and what did you research?
The Fulbright is a life-changing experience. As a teacher with over 20 years experience in the classroom, I was looking for ways to re-energize my practice, engage in comparative study of my curriculum, and take a deeper dive into theoretical foundations for the work I naturally gravitate toward in my lessons. I have a passion for understanding global movement and migration, for pulling apart multiple perspectives on cultures that meet, collide, and change, particularly in terms of how we teach this history in our schools. The underrepresented voices in parallel stories throughout history are often those that have suffered at the hands of powerful oppressors, and in my Fulbright work I chose to look at how the teaching of colonization in our schools today continues a cycle that strips power and identity from the colonized. I applied to Fulbright New Zealand because of similarities in the country’s colonial past to those found in our nation’s history, and because physically removing myself from our history gave me a space to ask culturally sensitive questions. I found the Fulbright program and the people with whom I worked in New Zealand to be open, generous, and incredibly supportive of both my journey and my research goals. Coming home, I feel empowered to share my understanding of the importance of accuracy in our foundational stories, those we are already teaching in our school, so that all the voices of this land are heard.
3. You recently did a TED Talk titled “Teach students difficult histories for more engaged citizens.” How were you tapped to do this TED Talk? Why did you choose this topic?
The TEDx experience came from a general call for participants put out by the Provincetown TED team. I was in New Zealand, traveling around the country in a camper van just prior to my official start date for the Fulbright, and I knew that at the end of this experience I would need a capstone to complete my grant requirements. Although I am a teacher, I’m not naturally gifted when it comes to public speaking. Perhaps that’s why I teach writing! But, I figured that the Fulbright was supposed to push me out of my comfort zone and into a challenge space. More importantly, I so firmly believed in the message that I hoped to spread. I have worked for many years to try to understand the history of the Wampanoag, the indigenous people of my home on Cape Cod, and my lessons attempt to bring balance back to the narrative surrounding the first Thanksgiving. I’ve worked with members of our Wampanoag community to try to understand this history better. I’m committed to breaking down stereotypes and mythologies, and in applying to present on the TEDx stage, I hoped that any strength I could convey as a speaker would come from my belief in this work. In working with the TED producers, I was pushed to look for universal themes within my talk, and so my ideas broadened to encompass the skills we are building in students when we ask them to engage in difficult history. Not only are we breaking a cycle of colonization perpetuated by tired mythologies, but we are teaching the skills of listening, understanding multiple perspectives, and engaging in respectful but rigorous debate. In short, these are the skills of an enlightened and engaged citizenry ready to solve problems rather than promote entrenched opinions about them.
4. If someone wanted to give a TED talk, what advice would you give them?
I would suggest considering your passion as a good starting point. What drives you in your teaching and what kinds of people are you hoping to shape in your classroom? Is there something you see in schools today that you know could be better, and how are you helping us to get there? The work that you do toward this could feel small. How can a poem about Tisquantum change the way we view history teaching? But the inherent themes of your work are probably much larger than you think. As my producers did with me, I would suggest thinking about the global audience that might benefit from your message. If it’s important here, there is most likely a universal applicability to your words. Then, write it down and start memorizing. If you are like me, there will be many, many flashcards in your future!
5. What will you be presenting at the Annual Conference?
IA Roundtable Session 2 at 1:30 on Friday:
Decolonizing Our Schools with Difficult History: Fulbright Research in Aotearoa/New Zealand
Immigration Stories in Integrated Curriculum
Saturday, November 23, 9:00 am to 9:25 am
Room 9C Level 3
Power Session Middle-Level Interdisciplinary
Learn to immerse students in stories of immigration to deepen their understanding of migrant experiences through this integrated curriculum. Middle-grade novels humanize the forces that push/pull people around the world.
See Susannah at the IA Roundtable Session 2 at 1:30 pm on Friday, November 22, 2019.
See her session, "Immigration Stories in Integrated Curriculum" at 9:00 am on Saturday, November 23, 2019.
Learn to give a TED Talk like Susannah at the TED Masterclass Conference session! More information.