The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

History Teacher By Day, CIA Agent By Night!

While my students were spending the day Saturday watching cartoons, playing video games, performing at the Festival of Trees, hanging out with family, or just sitting around the house staring at the walls, I was hanging out with about 70 other teachers from around the Champaign-Urbana area, attending a seminar/workshop for the American History Teachers Collaborative. The purpose of the AHTC is to bring teachers of American history together to learn and improve as professional educators. There are many workshops, seminars, and fact-finding missions that make up this project. (No, seriously, they do go on big trips–one year the AHTC spent a week in Boston!) The AHTC is open to K-12 educators who, yep, teach American history. And since just about anyone in K-12 education can make a connection to this content area, it is open to just about anyone in the field. Sadly, though, it does not include those who work part-time, such as substitute teachers, or those who teach beyond the K-12 spectrum, such as college professors. So one of the amazing side perks of my full-time job is that I can finally be a part of this group, after three years of seeing from outside and envying my colleagues!

This Saturday was the first opportunity I had to participate in a workshop. The workshop was entitled Spies and the Intelligence Community and featured keynote addresses by Tony & Jonna Mendez and also Dr. H. Keith Melton. The Mendezes are retired CIA officers who have actually been asked by the CIA to travel around and talk about what they did during their careers, mostly in the midst of the Cold War. Dr. Melton is an intelligence historian with an emphasis on espionage technology and tradecraft. (Think of Dr. Sweets in Bones, but make him a historian instead of a psychologist and you kind of have an idea of what Dr. Melton does.) The day was long and busy, with a keynote, two workshops, lunch, another keynote, and two more workshops.

But it was awesome! I acquired quite a bit of knowledge about how the intelligence community works, what is true and what is Hollywood fiction, and also the implications of an array of recent events, particularly the Mumbai attacks back in 2008. I also acquired several new books, which I am sure I will find a time to read eventually. Oh, and I got a nifty black t-shirt with white letters that says “History Teacher By Day, CIA Agent By Night” on the front. Now, clearly, I am not actually a CIA agent now, but it is still fun. And since three of my colleagues in my building were there, we decided that we just  had to wear the shirts to work today.

My class was, again, stunned to see me wearing something that was not my typical slacks, dress shirt, and tie. I am still greatly amused by their responses. Some froze in their tracks and stared. Some gibbered incoherently. Some just dropped their jaws. One student accused me of being an impostor and wanted to know where the “real” Mr. Valencic was. I explained why I was wearing this shirt, and then, when we joined up with the other fourth grade class, we talked about what the students did over the weekend compared to what I did. This was used as an awesome segue into exaggeration as a literary device, using And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street as an example. The students then wrote personal connections between Marco’s experiences and his desire to embellish and their own embellishments. We wrapped up with a discussion of using similes to further accent hyperbole as a literary device, with the students filling in the blanks in this statement: “The turkey was as big as ____, as burnt as ____, and as dry as ____!” It was most excellent!

The rest of the day was fairly typical for our fourth graders, but this certainly isn’t going to be a typical week, with just two more days of school before the Thanksgiving Break! Then we have two full weeks of school before the Winter Break, which means, as a parent pointed out this afternoon, that we have just 16 days of school left to this side of the year! Crazy!

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