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A Chance to Be Curious and Practice Wonder: My Year at the Library of Congress

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Jennifer Reidel

This post is by Jen Reidel, the 2019-2020 Library of Congress Civics Teacher in Residence. We thank her for her many contributions this year!

Have you ever looked back on a life experience and said to yourself, “I really didn’t know what I didn’t know?” This has been the case for me as the Library of Congress 2019-2020 Civics Teacher in Residence. This year has pushed me to be curious and practice wonder—things that can be hard to do in the confines of the classroom.

Through research, writing, presenting, and interaction with educators and colleagues on the Learning and Innovation Office (LIO) team, I have come to broaden what I see as civic education and the power of primary sources for all subject areas and ages. Primary sources offer learners lenses into historical moments, potentially seeing themselves, and inspiring students to participate in our collective story.

I am eager to use and share all that I have learned this year with students and colleagues. A few I will share here:

  • I appreciate how the LIO professional development crew thoughtfully constructs workshops and webinars where participants are given the space to authentically engage with primary sources and one another. I will emulate this practice with students using the Primary Analysis Tool, giving them the time and opportunity to personally interact with primary sources and construct meaning.
  • Before coming to the Library, I found my primary sources through general online searches. Now, I am excited to see how I can use items from our Primary Source Sets, tips and resources from Teaching with Primary Sources Blog, and from some of the TPS partners to engage students.
  • Because of working in the Library, I feel confident in finding and providing students multiple narratives of historical events in Chronicling America and using previously marginalized voices from recordings and oral histories in The American Archive of Public Broadcasting.
  • Personally, my thinking about and gratitude for the life and work of Rosa Parks has been stretched through her exhibit Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words and reading documents in the Rosa Parks Papers.
  • I have an interest and affinity for US History post-WWII and due to collection and copyright limitations, sometimes it has been difficult to find items for classroom use. After stumbling upon the photographs of Warren Leffler, I have some ideas of how his images can support teaching pivotal moments and presidencies in post-WWII America.

While the last three months of my time were not exactly what I thought they might be, and I desperately miss seeing and collaborating with Library staff face to face, I am grateful to have been offered the chance to create materials and webinars to assist educators in this remarkable moment in time. These experiences, and the skills I have developed, will be essential in the new normal of education.

Lastly, I am thankful for the Bellingham School District’s and Options High School’s willingness to support my time away this year. But most important, I can never say enough, “thank you” to my family who was willing to upend their lives and move across the country for this crazy adventure.



Comments (4)

  1. Congratulations to you, Jen, on an awesome year at the LC! It was wonderful to meet you and learn from you. And now we welcome you to the equally amazing group of Former LC Teachers in Residence. We are going to love to see what you do from here!

  2. Tom, thank you for your kind words now and throughout this year. I am excited to see how the experiences from this year continue to shape what I do with kids in the classroom.

  3. Well done and well shared. Thank you so much!

  4. Congratulations on a wonderfully productive, if somewhat odd year. I have enjoyed reading your posts to see new ways to use primary sources in my library and with my teachers. I echo Tom and say “Welcome to the Former LC Teachers in Residence club.”

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