Teacher Perspectives: Preparing for a Year of Oratory

Fall begins. The daylight starts to wane. The heat, hopefully, starts to wane. But for those of us who focus on the National Oratory Fellows program at Ford’s, the beginning of September means one thing: our teacher Pretreat*!

For the third year, our National Oratory Fellows journeyed to Washington in early September for a two-day planning meeting to kick off their school years. Our Fellows, from 10 states and the District of Columbia, spend two days with Ford’s Education staff, sharing promising practices for oratory-integrated teaching in their classrooms and deepening their friendships as a national professional learning community.

But don’t take it from me. Here are some things they wanted to share about their favorite moments of the Pretreat and being a part of Ford’s National Oratory Fellows.

Local oratory students perform Lincoln's words on stage at Ford's Theatre. Photo by James R. Brantley.

*Our teachers are so fun they make up words! Pretreat is their hybrid word for this before-school-year retreat.

Mike Buchanan, 7th through 12th-grade Social Studies teacher, Keya Paha County School, Springview, Neb.

I am constantly in awe of the wonderful things that this nationwide collaboration of teachers does. It is so wonderful sitting in a room with all of these friends, both new and old, sharing our passion for teaching students in ways that are engaging and fun, and challenging ourselves to constantly improve our practice by stepping outside of our own comfort zones.

Dave McIntire, 8th-grade history teacher, The Independent School, Wichita, Kan.

For some people, school doesn’t start [or] seem real until after Labor Day. For me, it doesn’t feel like school has started until after the Pretreat. These women and men inspire and challenge me to be the teacher I want to be; they see it in me and help me see it in myself. We are challenged, equipped and encouraged to be the teachers our students need for the coming year.

At the Pretreat, I reconnected with some of my favorite collaborators (co-conspirators?) from across the country (and met new partners in crime!). [I’ve been] able to test-drive an idea for a lesson with some of the smartest, most accomplished educators I know, and I learned valuable tools from master teachers (which I have already used in my classroom and shared with colleagues on my campus). These three things are invaluable to me.

Cathy Plumb-Sperry, 6th-grade Literacy teacher, James Bridger Middle School, Independence, Mo.

I always leave the Pretreat with a renewed dedication and excitement for the [Ford’s oratory] program. The biggest takeaway for me is, “This is what professional development is supposed to feel, look and most of all be.”

An oratory student performs his speech at Ford's Theatre. Photo by Gary Erskine.

James Rossi, 8th-grade History teacher, Northern Middle School, Hagerstown, Md.

I’m consistently inspired by the entire [Oratory Fellows] professional learning community. I rely on the members of our professional learning community for more than our work with the Oratory Fellows program. The 2015-2016 school year is my first in a Maryland public school, and I was able to connect with teachers across the state and country to discuss strategies for writing student learning outcomes. Additionally, I spoke with teachers about different methods of incorporating ELA Common Core standards into my Social Studies curriculum. I greatly value every experience with Ford’s Theatre Education and the National Oratory Fellows program.

Want to see the Teacher Fellows’ work in action? Our National Oratory Fellows join us in D.C. again on May 2, 2016, this time with two student delegates each, to perform historic and original speeches on Ford’s stage. Check out our other opportunities for teachers on our website!

Cynthia Gertsen is the Associate Director for Arts Education. She loves her National Oratory Fellows, and often finds herself wishing she could go back to middle school, just so the Fellows could be her English or History teachers.