Your new class is before you, notebooks and sharpened pencils at the ready. Attendance has been recorded, and you are poised to begin. Some of the faces turn toward you with enthusiasm; some appear to have skipped breakfast and a good night’s sleep. You open your mouth to begin. A disturbance at the door as a tardy student bustles in, all apologies and confusion. A couple in the back row continues a conversation begun when they entered the room. You’d really like to send them to the principal’s office, but you can’t. It’s Saturday, and the students are all classroom teachers in your museum for an in-service workshop.
Helping teachers understand your institution and how to use its collections is one of the most important aspects of museum education. It is through teachers, and the students they bring, that your museum, zoo, historic site, or nature center builds future audiences. However, teachers can be among your toughest audiences.
Teachers come to your in-service events on a weekend (when they should be doing laundry), or after school (when they should be grading papers), or in the summer (when they should be mowing the lawn). They attend, on average, 25 – 30 hours of in-service per year, and they are skeptical learners. And, worst of all, they come to your workshop with a split personality—as teachers and as students. Helping them resolve both personalities is, perhaps, the greatest challenge you face with teacher tours.
Before the Workshop/Tour
Plan your agenda. If teachers are receiving in-service credit from their school system for attending your workshop, they are required to attend for the entire 1, 3, or 6 hours. But, reality being what it is, consider that they may arrive tired and stressed. Begin and end on time; don’t punish those who arrive on time by waiting for latecomers. Welcome your guests with refreshments if possible; create breaks at appropriate times within the program. Include time toward the end for questions and for evaluations. Post the agenda and workshop goals, and check off items as they are completed. And, to address the teacher/student schism, from time to time, ask your class to comment on such teaching techniques: “Would it help your students to have the museum visit activities posted and checked off as they occur?”
Collect Useful Materials. Check the materials you need for your presentation and place them in the order of their use in the program. Highlight their use in your notes so you won’t forget to include something. Be certain to have enough handouts for every teacher; run a few extra just in case! Plan for the distribution of handouts. Do you want all the materials distributed at once? Do you want to pass out every page as you come to it in your presentation? Either strategy is fraught with perils! As you distribute materials, ask the teacher/ student: “What is the best way for us to distribute materials to your class when they come for a visit?”
Make Nametags. Each teacher should have a nametag, and so should you! It is impossible to create real group cohesiveness without names. Additionally, use different museum symbols on the nametags to assist in dividing into smaller groups; everyone with the same symbol will be in the same group. Groups of four or five work best; if you are expecting 25 teachers, use nametags with four or five different symbols. Ask your teacher/students: “Would you rather we use this technique to divide your class into groups for their tour, or would you prefer to establish small groups before you get to the museum?”
Arrange the Room. Choose a well-lighted, well-ventilated, quiet room for your class. Make sure it’s large enough to move around in and for get-acquainted activities, and has space for small group work. If your institution doesn’t provide such a space, consider asking to use one of the galleries or exhibit areas. Place chairs in an arrangement that encourages interaction —circles, semi-circles, tables.
Post signs or guides at the entrances. Don’t make those who attend your in-service work to find where it takes place. Explain where each part of the tour will take place when they bring their class to your institution. Help them locate the bathrooms, drinking fountains, and checkrooms their class will be using. Ask, “Do you see any problems that might arise from this physical layout of your class’s tour?”
During the Workshop/Tour
Break the Ice. A get-acquainted activity is important for several reasons, including, of course, getting acquainted! Inviting your teacher-students to get up and move around shows them that the workshop will be participatory and that they will have fun. Use an activity that you might use with their class. Explain, “We always start our tours with an icebreaker to help the children relax and get to know us better. This is one we might be using with your group. ”
Encourage Active Participation. As you teach your group of teachers, remember to use the same techniques that make your school tours so successful. Keep the lecture portion of your presentation brief; ask open-ended questions; provide hands-on activities. When possible, take the class into the exhibit space and simulate the kinds of activities you will use with their students. “I’d like you to pretend you’re a ten-year-old for this next activity,” always gets a good laugh and a few “ten-year- old” comments, but it gives your teacher-students permission to interact without losing their “adult” dignity.
Evaluate. Close your class by reviewing the posted goals and asking for questions. Whether it is a school-system requirement or not, use a written evaluation form at the end of your workshop and provide time within the agenda for questions and completion of the form. “We love to get letters from your classes after they’ve visited the museum. Please encourage them to tell us what they liked and didn’t like about their visit, “ will help your teacher-students see that evaluation is an important part of your museum’s commitment to education. This is also an appropriate time to provide information regarding tour reservations. After the in-service event, use the evaluations to identify strengths and weaknesses of the presentation. Immediately make note of your own suggestions and those of the teacher-students for improving future classes.
Acknowledging that the teacher-students see your institution with two “faces” will allow you to present in-service events that put them at ease, address their needs, and demonstrate your understanding of their responsibilities.
Jackie Littleton, Associate Editor
Littleton, Jackie. “The Two Faces of Eve, or…How I Learned to Love Teaching Teachers,” The Docent Educator 4.4 (Summer 1995): 18-19.