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10 Reasons I love NEH Summer Institutes

August 20, 2018

Oh my gosh, sometimes I am so bad at keeping up with this blog because there is SO MUCH going on. For example: this summer I did 2 professional developments and traveled to Spain and now we’re back at school – ahhhh – how to blog about all of it simultaneously!?? Well I don’t have an answer for you, but I will try to bounce between the many, many topics I have to discuss before other cool things come up. 🙂

One of the professional development programs I participated in this summer was in New York City on Islamic arts & poetry. I had an amazing time filled with new friendships, deepening knowledge, and profound conversation. The grant money for the program I was on was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. If you are a history, art or english teacher and have not heard about their summer programs wake the eff up & check them out here!

So without further ado here are my top 10 reasons why I love NEH Summer Institutes (FYI these items are in no particular order):

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#1 Engaging in intellectual conversation

When I became a teacher I thought I would spend my days pondering all the great questions of life and having deep discussion about history and art and humanity with my fellow colleagues…needless to say that has not happened yet. Instead, I spend my days playing mommy to over a hundred kids and laughing a stupid jokes in the lunchroom. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s not as intellectually stimulating as I had hoped. However, going on NEH programs provide a unique venue for some riveting conversation with various professors and lecturers who have a deep wealth of knowledge. And it is a perfect springboard to spend leisurely afternoons with other program participants from around the country debating and discussing ideas from the day’s activities.

Read more: A Conversation with a Student…

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#2 Making new friends

These national programs bring together teachers from all across the country which provides such a unique experience and can really help to expand your personal and professional network. Specifically at this past NEH I met fellow AP Art History and World History teachers who were amazing people and educators all around. Not only do we get to hang out as friends but, even when our program is over, I know I can reach out to them professionally as things come up in my teaching career. Especially as someone who teaches *very* specialized classes, it’s nice to meet people face to face who understand your weird obsession with crossing off items from “the 250” or hopping into every church you see.

Read more: Dorm Life @ the Seminary

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#3 Getting “exclusive” access

Programs like this tend to give you access to spaces and people who are traditionally limited, such as visiting various houses of worship or hearing a lecture by a Columbia professor. Living in Central Florida means that I am out of the major intellectual circles so it’s great to engage with “exclusive” things that are normally out of my reach. Personally, my favorite access is into religious worlds; people are sometimes picky about religious outsiders, especially when talking about Islam. This past NEH allowed us to visit 2 mosques, a Persian garden, and have a private tour of the Metropolitan Museum’s Islamic Wing: things that I couldn’t really do on my own, no matter how spunky of a traveler I am. 🙂

Read more: NEH Religious Worlds of New York Itinerary

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#4 Engaging with new material

As I have mentioned before, I love learning, and these programs open up dense worlds of new knowledge that I couldn’t really gain by reading or watching videos on my own. I love that NEH has academically rigorous and specific programs that allow me to dive into a subject and resurface with a wealth of information to bring into the classroom. Most of us wouldn’t necessarily pick up a difficult textbook to read for nighttime pleasure (myself included), so choosing courses like this *forces* me to learn new, and sometimes, advanced material. Each program I go on makes me more knowledgeable about my content and always gives me new ideas for my teaching.

Read more: A Reverence for Woads: Understanding Muslim Culture through the Arts Reading List

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#5 Visiting a new city

“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”

– Simone Beauvoir

Although you are on an academic trip and you can’t skip a lecture because you’re hung over (been there!), they totally understand you are also in an exciting and oftentimes new place and usually provide plenty of evening time to explore. Even if your program isn’t in a big city like New York City, it can still be an adventure! New York City is not a new place for me but there is so much to do, I can never get bored. Sometimes I come back and experience old sites in a new way: like walking across the Brooklyn Bridge every morning or gazing at the Empire State Building through the trees of a new bench. I was out and about all afternoon, evening, and sometimes night exploring the city with family & new friends.

Read more: 11 Favorite Things to do in NYC

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#6 Reinvigorating your teaching

It’s easy for teachers to get into a funk; maybe it’s a bad day, difficult student(s), or whatever. Programs like NEH allow you to enter into an almost suspended world where none of that stuff matters. Nothing that happened last year matters anymore! Nothing that might come next year can touch you! You can focus on enjoying the present and enjoy being a learner again. Every time I walk out of an NEH program, I am so excited to go back to the classroom or plan lessons. I get reinvigorated about my subject and the possibilities of a new year, instead of dreading meeting a new crop of students.

Read more: I just want to be a Teacher.

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#7 Making some money (or at least not going broke)

Anyone who tells you money isn’t important has either too much of it or none at all. 🙂 Money is important and without NEH providing grants to help me travel, I could not afford to do trips like this over summer. NEH provides a stipend to help with travel, housing, food, and other costs. Otherwise there is no way I could afford to stay in New York City for 2 weeks on my teacher salary. I truly, truly appreciate the government funding that goes into this to support teachers and I hope, hope, hope it is still around for decades to come!

Read more: Travel Tips for Teachers

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#8 Feeling like a student again

I don’t want to go back to college. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning but I am done taking tests and writing papers (I blog instead lol). However, I do like switching my role around from teacher to student temporarily. Not only does it help me sympathize with them but it helps to remind me why I went into teaching in the first place: so that I can always learn. I truly enjoy sitting in lectures about sometimes obscure academic topics, taking notes (notes that I will probably never read again!), and asking questions. As much as I love being “on stage” as a teacher, it’s refreshing to sometimes be in the crowd as a student.

Read more: Teaches! Apply for Summer Programs

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#9 Getting paid to lesson plan

All NEH programs require you to create a lesson or unit plan so it makes perfect sense to go on one where you have time to create the best lesson plan for your course over summer AND get paid to do it. The two lessons I have made for both my programs have gone back into my classroom and I’ve even borrow lesson ideas from colleagues to bring back with me. It’s a total win-win situation.

Read more: Lesson Plan: Global Feminism through Visual Culture

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#10 Because you’re bored…

This reason may seem weak but hear me out: my husband and I are both teachers and we each did 2 different institutes this summer. This means we didn’t spend a ton of time together doing projects in our new house BUT it also meant that we were not sitting around trying not to spend money. We don’t have a family yet so I’m sure this will change a bit over time but for now it is the best way to spend our summers.
Heck, even if you have kids it’s still good to sometimes get away and engage in programs like this. More difficult, yes, and requires some coordination, but I think it is important to do for yourself and your teaching.

Read more: Teacher Tips: Surviving Summer

JMF

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