Esmeralda Tello, a seventh grade American history teacher at J. Taylor Finley Middle School in Huntington, NY, was one of 20 teachers selected last spring to receive national recognition from the Zinn Education Project for her exemplary teaching. Tello was awarded with 25 copies of A People’s History of the United States.
Amid national and state debates about U.S. history standards, Tello — a member of NYSUT’s Huntington local in Nassau County — finds that the key to inspiring students is to emphasize the stories to which the students can relate; stories and perspectives that are often left out of traditional textbooks. And that is the message the Zinn Education Project is trying to share: Learning should be about expanding a students horizon, inspiring them to discover valuable lessons from our countries past, so they can apply these lessons in the real world to create change in the communities that surround them.
Tello is no stranger to Zinn’s book. “I started teaching A People’s History in January of 2010,” she said. “I began teaching alternative history with it to supplement our class textbook because it offers varied primary sources that give voice to all sides of an argument.” A People’s History of the United States covers American history by telling stories through the lenses of common Americans, rather than political and economic elites of the times.
Last spring, Tello was one of almost 100 history teachers from across the nation to enter an essay contest sponsored by the Zinn Education Project. The goal of the project is to introduce students to a more accurate, complex and engaging understanding of United States history that differs from a teaching style that relies heavily on traditional history textbooks and curricula. Teachers were asked to describe how they taught “a people’s history” – a history that includes the diverse perspectives of working people, women, people of color, and organized movements for social change. Tello used the class set she received from the Zinn Education Project and role-playing activities available on the project's website, zinnedproject.org, to bring history to life for her students.
“It was as if a veil of fog had been lifted from their eyes," says Tello. "At the young age of 12, my students learned that there is more to the history of any nation than what they are taught through textbooks in school. My reward was seeing my students engaged in their own learning."
-- Luke Anapolis