Mr. Parrish at "the Cabin."



Twenty years ago, I received training in Victoria, Canada, and Nashville, Tennessee, on how to teach IB (International Baccalaureate) History of the Americas, a comparative analysis of political, social, and economic narratives of North and South American countries. Since that time, I have taken a special interest in the history of South America and have learned as much as possible on my own and via UNC-CH Project for Historical Education. Accordingly, while teaching American History I, American History II, and American History: The Founding Principles, I frequently discuss parallel events north and south of America's borders. To ignore such interconnected histories is to restrict a student's understanding to a narrow segment of the big picture of the western hemisphere.


I use excel bar and line graphs to chart student progress.

In addition, I utilize the many features of North Carolina's EVAAS data in order to chart the growth and development of my students, as well as my own growth and development as classroom instructor.


The textbook which we are currently using in honors-level United States History is college-level reading; it is the same book all honors-level United States History classes are using at Durham Public Schools. It is a good book; but, some basic historical details are either left off, or briefly referenced, as students are expected to know such basic historical details from required high school U.S. history classes. But, this is the first high school U.S. History class my students have taken; this presents a challenge. Nevertheless, I have told my students that I will provide everything that they need to know during classroom discussion, notes, and lecture. I want students to read the textbook. But, it is very important that students focus during class, as much of the material we cover in class is material that is often vaguely referenced in, or omitted fully from, the textbook. For example, on page 714, the book (the American Journey) makes reference to the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928 by simply stating that this treaty, "signed by 64 nations, . . . renounced aggression and outlawed war." There are many details left off - why was the treaty desired? Who initiated it? Which nations signed it? What are the specific terms of the treaty? And, on page 733, the book makes reference to the Bonus Army of 1932, but does not mention the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924, or the Patman Bill of 1932, two critical pieces of information. To understand the Bonus Army, students must understand these bills. Also, on page 759, the book makes reference to Hitler's taking of European countries but fails to mention the key terms of Anschluss, Sudetenland, and the Non Aggression Pact between Hitler and Stalin in 1939, all key pieces of information which may appear on the state test. And, on page 747, the book mentions that the Supreme Court challenged FDR's New Deal programs. The book states: ". . . the Court had declared several important measures unconstitutional." My students need to know which measures were declared unconstitutional and why. And, on page 522, the book mentions the theory of "Gospel of Wealth" but does not mention it in connection with Andrew Carnegie. Similarly, the book mentions, on that same page, the theory of Social Darwinism without mentioning Herbert Spencer and his book called First Principles. There are many more discrepancies in the textbook. During instruction, I go into greater detail with my students.

In contrast, I have nothing but good things to say about our Honors level Civics and Economics textbooks. Magruder's, American Government (Prentice Hall) and Economics, Principles in Action (Prentice Hall). Both books are excellent!


During classroom discussion, note-taking, and lecture, I provide a clear and concise conceptual framework of understanding, inserting details appropriately, using charts, diagrams, and hundreds of maps when necessary. With this understanding, students can take details that they find on their own, from class textbook reading, newspapers, books, or television, and place such details on their framework of understanding. I want students to recognize where and how things “fit” into place in history. Moreover, I want students to know more than simply what happened; I want students to also clearly understand why things happened, as well as how events relate to other events before and after.

During class discussion, notes, and lecture, we therefore often focus on cause-and-effect relationships. For example, while teaching about direct causes of World War I, I once had a student ask: “But, why did Austria-Hungary want to annex Bosnia-Herzogovinia?” As a teacher, I love such questions which provide an opportunity to teach the material with greater complexity, as required by North Carolina Standard Course of Study for Honors-level classes.


One of the greatest challenges that most students face in my classes right now is time constraints; we are on a semester schedule. Hence, we are required to cover American History I and American History II during a semester. This is difficult to do, as unit tests often come from two, three, and sometimes four chapters. Many of my students are often overwhelmed by the volume of material that we are required to cover in such a short time. I don’t want my students to feel overwhelmed. I want them to enjoy history. In class, I try to break the material down slowly and methodically, inserting points of interest to generate participation and to pull the student in. Yes, we move fast. But, if a student is in class every day, with notebook open, ready to learn, student will do fine in class. Just a side note: my students tell me that the college versions of my classes are easier because they do not have a state test. In other words, I am required to cover "all" of the material in order to be prepared for the state test. Professors at the college level make their own tests and often do not finish the material by the end of the semester.


For the most part, I have heard lots of good things from parents and students regarding style of instruction. Occasionally, a student will complain that they want to do more things that are “fun,” posters, worksheets, role-play, and other such cooperative activities. I agree that such activities are good. In fact, such activities provide students opportunities to perfect research and communication skills; such activities provide students an opportunity to learn how to effectively defend their positions on various topics. I have had many hours of training on how to do the "fun" things in class; I try to insert as many as possible.

In Civics and Economics class, we do Mock Trial, as well as Mock City Council. This past year, my students of Civics researched the relatively recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. We watched a film about this case, then stopped the film just as the town council of New London was about to make its decision. My students then took on role of mayor, council members, and members of the community on both sides, as well as corporate representatives. After researching their roles, we role-played a town-council meeting and came up with our own decision. In so doing, students also learned about the important concept of “eminent domain.”

In American History, it is sometimes difficult to do lots of cooperative activity, although I try to insert as much as I feel is appropriate given our time constraints. Most students in American History class want more specific instruction, as our textbook can be very difficult to understand otherwise. In American History class, we are required to spend more time on conceptual framework, due to the large volume of material that we must cover to satisfy North Carolina standard course of study requirements. But, we also sometimes do AVID activities in U.S. History class. For example, after learning about immigration in the early 20th century this semester, students took on roles of new immigrants and wrote poems using the “I Am” format provided by AVID. Students then shared poems with the class. In addition, I sometimes have students do “what if” papers, as well as “how I feel” papers on various subjects. Students are also currently writing personal narratives from the viewpoint of any person associated with World War I; students will share these narratives with the class. And, students this semester participated in newscast-from-the past role play activity while learning our chapter on the roaring 20s. Each semester, we also take a day-long field trip to the historical sites in Durham (Bennett Place, Duke Homestead, and Stagville Plantation). All of these sites have fun and informative activities prepared for our students on our field trip day.


I want students to master the skill of note-taking, both in class, and while doing reading. I have told my students that I want them to have two notebooks, one for class notes, and one for reading notes. While reading, students should outline main points of the reading in their reading notebook - this will make review much easier, as students will not have to “re-read” an entire chapter in preparation for a test; students will simply review their outline of main points. I provide a “term sheet” for students to assist in knowing what the main points of the reading are.

During class, it is important to hear what the teacher is saying and to outline in note form main points. Although many professors at the university level don’t write on the board, I often place an outline on the board to give students note-taking practice. My lectures are also interactive. I encourage questions and discussion. This is very important! I want to hear from my students and often do. I don’t simply lecture to my students, I “discuss” the material with them.

Just as a side note, I have recently began experimenting with "sketchnotes," which I have found useful for students who are visual learners. You can find lots of information about "sketchnotes" online. Click here for more.


United States history at the high school level often builds upon knowledge that students learned in World History as well as Civics/Economics. A frustration that I often encounter, for myself as well as for the student, is the fact that some students do not bring from previous classes necessary knowledge to fully put the pieces together in American History. Some students know exactly what I make reference to during instruction, and are delighted to recognize how the pieces now fit together, while other students wonder what it is I’m talking about. To be fair, I will back up when students don’t remember or recognize earlier material from other classes.

For example, while teaching about the American Revolution, we learn about Marquis de Lafayette of France and his friendship with George Washington. We then tie the two revolutions together (American and French Revolution). While learning about the American Revolution, we also discuss how George Washington inspired Simon de Bolivar, the “Great Liberator” of South America, to lead a similar revolution against the colonial rule of Spain. And, while learning about the causes of World War I, we will first discuss the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and how it relates to events of World War I. We will also discuss the Congress of Berlin of 1878 and how its terms, specifically article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin, lead to Austria-Hungary’s eventual annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I once overhead a Social Studies teacher explain to her students that the Great Depression happened because the stock market crashed in 1929; I felt bad for her students. In my class, we go into great detail, using charts and diagrams, of exactly which events lead up to the crash of 1929; we discuss surplus, overproduction during and immediately after WWI, mechanization, buying on margin, unequal distribution of wealth, and unbalanced foreign trade. We cover the material in greater complexity and detail. In so doing, I feel certain that my students will be well-prepared for more advanced university instruction.


In the past, I have spent much time teaching students how to do advanced power points, web page design, and Microsoft Publisher Publications. I have also taught html code formatting to my Social Studies students. In fact, I have developed a large technology web page that is linked to our class web page. But, for the past several years, due to time constraints, our technology instruction now involves student-created historical documentaries on historical and contemporary issues, using Windows Movie-Making technology. All students in U.S. History as well as Civics/Economics are currently working in groups to create and share their video documentaries. I am very proud of the great projects that they produce.


Durham Public Schools has recently initiated an Assessment For Learning program. The program emphasis is on the learning process as opposed to just the final outcome. During instruction, I help students to learn the material. If a student fails a test, I will allow the student to retake a different version of the same test, after remediation, until the student has mastered the material. Assessment For Learning program also makes use of common assessments. In other words, all of my tests incorporate questions that were created by a team of teachers in the district.


Most importantly, and in conclusion, I provide to my students a very specific study guide for each test taken in class all year. The study guides are linked to our class web page. And, I have promised students that all questions on the tests will come directly from the study guide. Doing well in my class means knowing the study guides. I am here to help.