Joe Zlatnik is an 8th Grade American History teacher at Basehor-Lindwood USD 458.
“I am as happy no where else and in no other society,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”
Professional development opportunities, when relegated to our buildings, is often dull, not specific to our content, and, worst of all, uninspiring. Fortunately, there are a number of quality professional development opportunities for Social Studies teachers that will significantly impact us as educators. Coming up in November is the Kansas Council for the Social Studies Conference in Salina. The next month, the National Council for the Social Studies will have their annual conference in Washington D.C. While both of these are great opportunities to learn from some of the brightest minds in our profession, there are other professional development opportunities that are impactful on a more personal level.
This past July, I had the honor and privilege of being selected to take part in the Monticello Teacher Institute: The Barrringer Fellowship. This weeklong experience allowed me to spend time in Charlottesville, Virginia immersing myself in the world of Thomas Jefferson. We spent time at Monticello itself, the special collections library at the University of Virginia, the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, and a multitude of locations significant to Jefferson’s life or the study of his life.
This fellowship opportunity, open to teachers from across the country, is designed to give teachers the chance to experience the power of place while working with fellow educators to develop curriculum materials for their Monticello Digital Classroom and Sea of Liberty websites (I created materials focused on the Alien and Sedition Acts). I was able to collaborate with educators from across the country and world with a multitude of backgrounds. Social Studies teachers made up the majority of those in attendance, but there were also librarians, administrators, special education teachers, and elementary teachers represented in our group. Being able to access and share resources with such an outstanding and diverse group of professionals was one of the highlights of the experience, and I look forward to those relationships growing over time as we continue to stay in touch and be resources for one another.
One of the best parts of an experience such as this is that you get access that very few people ever receive. Private tours, receptions on the grounds of the plantation, and being able to pick the brains of some of the brightest scholars in the world are just a few of the advantages a program such at the Monticello Teacher Institute offers. One of my personal highlights occurred at the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. It was there that I had the opportunity to hold history in my hands.
Many people are unaware that Thomas Jefferson wrote a book entitled, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. This book, often referred to as the “Jefferson Bible,” was created by Jefferson cutting and pasting various passages from the New Testament into a book that left out all of the miracles and supernatural events associated with the life of Jesus. I asked the curator working with us if I could hold the different Bibles that Jefferson used to cut from, thinking he would surely say no, but he didn’t. Being able to hold something that Jefferson himself held and used was incredibly powerful.
In closing, the Monticello Teacher Institute is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to grow as a professional, contribute to a great collection of online teaching resources, and have a first rate experience exploring the life of Thomas Jefferson. I hope that you will consider applying for this year’s Monticello Teacher Institute, but regardless, please know that the folks at Monticello are wonderful and they are willing to work with you to benefit your students.
Here are some resources that you could utilize in your classrooms: