It may be presumptuous to consider summer break when spring break hasn’t even made an entrance. But, on this day in February, I’m asking you to do just that. And I’m asking you to think teacher professional development.
I know! Don’t stop reading!
Every summer, the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) offers educators the opportunity to study with university professors at their respective institutions. The course offerings are extensive, relevant, and scintillating. This year, the available seminars and institutes cover topics such as “American Women at War,” “From Harlem to Hip-Hop: African-American History, Literature, and Song,” and “Muslim American Identities, Past and Present,” to name a few. Not your typical professional development...nor your typical summer.
Last summer, I spent five weeks at Amherst College, with Professor Austin Sarat learning about “Punishment, Politics, and Culture.” Fifteen of us convened daily around a long wooden table inside an elegantly old house. We posed thought-provoking questions about justice, punishment, and human nature, with a healthy dose of cheeky humor.
Those sessions more closely resembled a philosophical dinner table conversation than a sterile lecture. My weeks at Amherst revived my personal curiosity and drive as a learner. And, I got to rest and explore a bookstore housed in an 1842 gristmill, pick summer blueberries, and visit the house where Emily Dickinson grew up -- a bucket list item of mine. It was a summer of being continuously inspired.
I encourage you to take a look at this summer’s available programs. The listings include both small group (capped at sixteen) seminars and a more extensive institute (twenty-five to thirty-six participants). Each program offers something different: a unique summer experience you can take back to your classroom and your life.
The NEH Summer Program deadline is March 1st. I encourage you to take the time to complete the short application essay and provide two references to get your shot at this transformative summer excursion. It might feel challenging to find a few hours during this long stretch of winter school days, but I promise your summer self will thank you.
Christy Chang is a middle school Humanities teacher at a private school in the Greater Philadelphia region. She loves teaching middle schoolers because they have so many opportunities to deepen their awareness of the world each day, and it's really fun to be a part of that.