Teachers for a New Century offers content-based professional development programs for Maine teachers K-12 in a variety of humanities subjects. Topics in 2005 have included Watergate, Walt Whitman’s Civil War, Native Americans in Maine, and East Asian Studies. In addition to one-day programs throughout the school year, in 2005 the Council administered a residential Teaching American History grant from the U.S. Department of Education (the only one awarded in Maine) and pioneered a History Camp for high school students nominated by teachers from our programs.
Bill Murphy is the kind of teacher who, even before the school year begins, meets with his new 11th graders in the gazebo in the Belfast City Park. He asks them to look out over the harbor and try to imagine Verrazano sailing into Penobscot Bay looking for some fabulous city of gold. “It’s farther north, the Native Americans keep telling him,” Murphy says about the mythical Norembega.
This imaginative leap into the 16th century is typical of the innovative, cross-disciplinary teaching practiced by Murphy, an alumnus of five contentrich professional development programs sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council over the past decade. He was most recently enrolled in “Longfellow and the Forging of American Identity,” a three-year institute for 30 Maine and Massachusetts teachers funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
An English teacher since 1982, Murphy is in his 12th year at Belfast Area High School, where he teaches English for grades 9 to 12 and AP courses called “The American Experience”—a chronological survey linking American history and literature—and “Global Studies”—a subject he said he was able to enrich after the Council’s East Asia seminar a few years ago.
“Longfellow has become a touchstone for my teaching of the 19th century,” he said. “His is an eloquent antislavery voice. Students love his poems on slavery from the 1840s, especially the one about the African king dying in an American rice field and dreaming of his lost home.
“And Longfellow is one of us. Kids respond with local pride when he is taught as part of Maine’s heritage.”
What does the institute mean for Murphy personally? “I like being a student again. When you’re a teacher, all the responsibility is on you. In the Council’s programs you can sit back and listen and talk with colleagues and read. It’s a kind of intellectual stimulation that’s difficult to find in the workplace.
“The more you know, the better you teach. I see teaching as part of a great humanist tradition. Every generation takes on its shoulder the task of passing its knowledge to a future generation.”