Five Questions with Educational Consultant Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson

What do you teach, and where?

Even after thirty-three years as a teacher and librarian in Iowa, Germany, and Colorado, I must confess that I failed retirement! Through my work with the Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region program and the TPS Teachers Network, I have remained deeply involved in professional development. I also “teach” through Twitter and my Primary Source Librarian blog, seizing every opportunity to share Library of Congress primary sources and teaching ideas. Because so much of my work is online, my computer and I have become inseparable, but I still relish the occasional face-to-face teaching gig.

How do you use Library of Congress materials with your students or colleagues?

Lately I have been championing Library of Congress materials as a vehicle for helping students develop the skills to ask their own questions. I have long believed that student questioning is essential to creating lifelong learners. Transferring the power of the question to students requires a conscious change in school cultures – a real shift in practice – and one that primary sources support quite effectively.

Tell us about an item from the Library’s online collections that you love to show to students.

LadysGuideLike many teachers and students, I gravitate toward visual primary sources, but recently I’ve made an effort to identify short, teachable texts for a variety of reading levels. One of my all time favorite texts is a model 1857 “Dear John” letter from a dance manual with the impossibly long title of The lady’s guide to perfect gentility, in manners, dress, and conversation … also a useful instructor in letter writing, toilet preparations, fancy needlework, millinery, dressmaking, care of wardrobe, the hair, teeth, hands, lips, complexion, etc. I am also anxious to explore the new Clara Barton papers, particularly her diaries and journals from the American Civil War.

Describe an “Aha!” moment for you with teaching with primary sources.

I’ve had so many “Aha!” experiences over the years! In addition to countless student light bulb moments, I would say a slightly different “Aha!” moment came with the realization that the Library’s education staff is always ready and excited to help teachers and librarians everywhere. Not only can educators take advantage of TPS regional and partner workshops across the country, but they can also apply for the Library’s prestigious Summer Teacher Institute, access professional development modules online, follow the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog, subscribe to the @TeachingLC Twitter feed, use the Ask a Librarian service, and the list goes on! You are never alone when you discover the power of primary sources.

What would you most like to tell other your fellow educators about teaching with primary sources like these?

I would advise them to make primary sources a daily habit, both as learners and as teachers. Take that first step, and connect with others so you can learn together.