For the past 13 summers, high school, middle school, and elementary school teachers have made their way to Hannibal, Missouri, to attend the Mark Twain Teachers’ Workshop held at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. Created in 2006 and run by museum director, Henry Sweets, the week-long workshop has hosted a total of 478 teachers, mostly from Missouri, but some from as far away as California, Maine, Florida, and even Japan.
Teachers spend a week listening to talks on specific works of Twain, discussing those works in group sessions, and working on lessons plans to apply when they return to their classrooms. Many of these lesson plans from past workshops are available on the museum’s website: https://www.marktwainmuseum.org/for-teachers/lesson-plans/. Teachers have full access to the museum exhibits daily. But perhaps the highlight of the workshop, as the teachers attest, is the place. Participants visit the Mark Twain Cave; Cardiff Hill; Mark Twain’s birthplace in Florida, MO; various cemeteries in Hannibal; and of course, the Mississippi River. They enjoy a dinner cruise on the river as well. As one participant this summer put it: “Having visited, walked, touched, and breathed the areas Twain wrote of—this will enrich my teaching.”
The topics for the workshop have varied over the years: Twain’s short stories; The Prince and the Pauper paired with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Following the Equator; and Roughing It. But the pairing of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is featured every other year.
The workshop is led by Henry Sweets, who provides a wealth of biographical and historical information about young Sam Clemens, Mark Twain the writer, and Hannibal and its culture and citizens. In addition, a Twain scholar offers commentary and lectures about the specific works under discussion and serves as a resource for teachers as well. Past scholars include Cindy Lovell, Bruce Michelson, Susan Harris, Michael O’Conner, Janice McIntyre-Strasburg, Jocelyn Chadwick, Tom Quirk, Larry Howe, and this year Ben Click. Finally, an education specialist engages teachers in various pedagogical activities that could be used in the classroom and works teachers individually and in groups as they develop their lesson plans. Dr. Julie Albee, professor of education at Hannibal-LaGrange University, has served in this capacity for the past seven years. Participants in the workshop receive graduate credit for completing assigned work and for their participation in workshop. The number of participants in the workshop ranges from 15-20.
The workshop, held in July, is funded by the Missouri Humanities Council and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. It is a wonderful experience, as these photos reflect.