As Dana Ainsworth began to address the history of race in her English classes at the Miller School of Albemarle, she noticed gaps in her students’ knowledge and the curriculum, especially about slavery and African American history.
“We need to expand the range of what we are drawing from in order to provide all our students with an accurate narrative of their own history,” she said.
To help expand her own knowledge base, Ainsworth is spending the week learning about and discussing the Civil Rights Movement and the role educators played during that time. She’s one of nearly 30 participants attending the second annual Summer Teachers Institute, hosted by the Center for Race and Public Education in the South at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education & Human Development.
The center has been interviewing teachers who taught from 1950 to 1980 for an oral history project about the work of educators during the Civil Rights Movement. So far, Teachers in the Movement has collected 250 interviews.
Derrick Alridge, a professor at the Curry School, is leading the project. He recently wrote about the project in The Washington Post, which spurred more calls from interested teachers. He’s now aiming for 1,000 interviews with teachers.
Alridge said the institute is a way for teachers to learn from those interviews and how those educators taught about race.
“You think it’s hard now. Can you imagine what it was like then?” he said. “Hopefully, teachers today can look and see how these teachers taught about these very, very difficult issues of their time.”
Educators leave the institute with resources to incorporate into their classes.
“It’s not one of those things where we give them a bunch of information without talking to them about it,” Alridge said. “We spend time talking about the content, the history, and then have conversations about how might you teach this.”
Tuesday’s session opened with a lecture from Tondra Loder-Jackson, a professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. She encouraged the teachers to look at unconventional narratives about the Civil Rights Movement and to challenge assumptions such as that educators weren’t involved.
She opened her presentation by highlighting a march by black teachers in Selma, Alabama, in January 1965. They marched to the county courthouse to register to vote under threat of being fired. Loder-Jackson said she only learned about this march last year.
“This story had escaped me,” she said. “It’s important to keep digging.”
Over the course of five days, attendees will hear from teachers who taught during the civil rights era, listen to other lectures about the movement and have conversations about curriculum. The institute wraps up Friday.
Ainsworth took a class with Alridge last semester and already started to incorporate the history of race into her English classes at the Miller School. She wants to make sure she’s teaching the history accurately.
“You want to reach each group of students and make them all feel that this attainable and accessible to them,” she said.
Charlottesville and Albemarle County schools have started or participated in initiatives to reshape social studies lessons and include marginalized voices in different subject areas.
Ainsworth said she’s hoping to start a similar dialogue at her school.
“Because while we do have an all-white faculty and administration, we have a really diverse student population, and we have to honor that,” she said.