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Challenges faced by history teachers

Discussion in 'History' started by Cuileann1, Nov 17, 2019.

  1. I have recently been offered an interview for teacher training and have been told it is likely I'll be asked about the challenges faced by teachers of my specific subject. I appreciate that competition from newer, 'sexier' subjects like psychology or sociology means that history is sometimes left on the back burner. I also imagine that keeping making events of the past seem relevant and interesting to a group of teenagers living in modern society is tricky! But beyond this, I've drawn a blank.

    I was wondering if anyone can share the challenges that you face as history teachers (and, indeed, as teachers in general)? Any ideas would be massively, massively appreciated.

    Thank you!
  2. Weald56

    Weald56 Established commenter

    I'm a retired teacher, so take my comments in that context.

    But I'd point out that 'newer' subjects like Sociology were being taught in my first school nearly 40 years ago! History is now more popular than ever - do some research: look at the number of books on historical topics available on Amazon (for instance); take a week on TV and look at the number of history related programmes on - not just BBC1, 2 & 4, but also C4 & C5 and the specialist history channels. Get these figures in your HT and be ready to quote them.

    I'd then go on to look at the specific skills learning history can develop - research skills, ability to read and comprehend documents, ability to weigh arguments, to reach supported conclusions etc.

    Then also consider the importance of history in a time of political uncertainty - what narrative of the history do we want the next generation(s) to learn? The history taught to our PM at Eton might be quite different to that meaningful to a multi-cultural school in the inner city, say.

    I'd also have a look at what the Historical Association can offer - esp. its magazine 'Teaching History' (see https://www.history.org.uk/ and https://www.history.org.uk/publications/categories/teaching-history).

    Good luck, by the way.
  3. varcolac

    varcolac Occasional commenter

    I was asked a variation on this at my last couple of successful interviews.

    Curriculum time is a challenge. If students have limited time and you want to teach them the most history possible, the necessity of squeezing centuries of content into mere hours of contact time is a huge challenge.

    With the rise of EBacc accountability measures and Ofsted's new focus on students having equal access to a quality curriculum offer, how you're able to teach the subject effectively to a broad ability range without being able to turn anyone away to Business Studies or BTEC sport, as was possible in the past, is a conundrum.

    The past is always relevant and interesting to me so that's not a challenge. Of all the subjects in the curriculum we have an advantage there - there's always an interesting story to tell or puzzle to solve. The question is how you choose which parts of the past you want to use in order to a) give the students who'll continue studying the subject to A-Level and beyond the best grounding in the discipline, b) get great results for students to whom GCSE History is on their timetable but not their utmost priority, and c) ensure that even those poor unfortunates who choose Geography for GCSE get an overview of the world's history so they are able to navigate modern life with at least half a mind on how it got to be like that in the first place.
    Iceni_princess and Weald56 like this.
  4. annajordan

    annajordan New commenter

    I'd say there are some conceptual challenges that teachers of history face, when teaching history to young people:
    1) young people tend to see change as event centred - they have a birthday so they are 1 year older - helping them to understand that change can be an incremental process can be challenging.
    2) young people tend to think that significance is inherent rather than attributed - Columbus landing in America in 1492, to students, is often considered significant, whereas in fact it wasn't until North America became independent and wanted a nation-building start point that this date became discussed and celebrated; significance was attributed later, in line with the priorities of that time. This can be conceptually quite tricky because they don't always have the life experience to realise that the significance of the past changes over time.
    This is just for starters! It's probably too late for your interview, but you might like to give it some thought before you start your course. It's still the best job in the world! Good luck.

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