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He Said, She Said! Inviting Community Involvement

As we study topics in history, we are often dependent on the information available in texts and through other basic resources, primary or secondary.  But, for modern events, we have a wealth of resources at our fingertips. 

Inviting the community into your classroom can bring history to life, and can be the motivating factor some of your students need to get them to buy into the lessons you teach every day.  Guest speakers can be the tool you need to open the doors to controversial topics, and can be the resource to open minds to difference and acceptance.

It's all about what He Said and She Said!
Involving the community can be a challenging task.  Finding the perfect speakers can be a hit or miss experience.  I have experience both incredible, heartwarming class sessions, and I have been embarrassed beyond belief, but it the end it was all worth it!

Where can you find guest speakers?  Try the following avenues:
  • Contact local universities for professors or researchers who study specific topics.
  • Make a call to the local churches or synagogues to request listings of local survivors from persecutions (Holocaust survivors) or refuges.
  • Call cultural centers or organizations for varying perspectives on world events. 
  • Make calls to the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) for a listing of soldiers from Vietnam and more recent American war efforts.
  • Your local military recruiters are always willing to come talk about their military branch or other military topics.
  • Invite your local Junior Achievement organization or bank professionals to guest teach economics lessons.
  • Request assistance from your state Geographic Association (some are tied to universities) for great map resources and those who can share the facts behind them.
  • Connect with your local or state museums for leaders in local historic events, especially from recent events such as the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Invite park rangers or environmentalists to report of Geographic features or concerns.
  • Get in touch with senior centers or nursing homes to request speakers.  Even "everyday" people can tell incredible stories, especially the generation born during WWI or the Great Depression!
And finally, ask your school community.  Invite in parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, former students, faculty family, and anyone else who has a perspective that could help your students to better see and understand history! 

Need some more specific ideas?  Here are some of my most memorable examples:
  • Missy Jenkins Smith spoke to our students on bullying. She was a survivor of the 1997 school shooting in Paducah, Kentucky.
  • A Holocaust Survivor shared her experiences with my students, not only telling her story, but also showing her evidence (the tattoo of her prison number) of the torture endured by the Nazis.
  • One of my former professors from our local university's International Studies Department spoke to my students about his time as a CIA agent living in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • The visit by a gentleman who was held in a Japanese interment camp and later joined to serve in the military for the U.S. who shared about the suitcase his mom packed as they were moved from their home into the camp.
  • A very senior gentlemen who came from the local VFW to share his stories from WWII, and his wife shared about her experiences on the homefront.
  • One of my family members came to share his Vietnam experiences, leaving me in tears and overwhelmed with appreciation.
And my favorite:
One of my former students returned after graduating from college.  She had a debilitating and progressive disease that took her life not long after that last visit.  But her message to my students was most valuable:  Never give up, no matter what your challenges are!

The guest speakers that came into my classes not only enhanced my lessons; they taught my students about history (and life) in a way that no other resource could.

Happy Teaching!