Teaching Portfolio

Truth is stranger than fiction. History is a million and one tales exploring the mechanisms of the human experience. It is a tome of all genres, touching every other subject, weaving intimate webs of existence. It is for this reason I want to teach history. The opportunity to share stories and inspire eager ears is golden.

My main focus, both in this class and in my studies, is socio-cultural American history. In such a relatively short time, this country has gone through many incarnations. Globally, there are few places the American Empire has not touched. I have had the opportunity in this class to explore multiple facets of American history and the consequences behind the actions of the evolving country.

I began my portfolio in 1917 with the ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic. I explored similarities to the current Covid-Pandemic and the things Americans both did and did not learn. There are many things that 2020 U.S.A. could have learned from its history with pandemics, but the past was largely ignored and forgotten.

From here, we step back a few centuries in time to the first thanksgiving. We examine ways in which the early settlers of what was to become the United States and the ideals these people carried with them. Racism, Sexism, Violence are all examined in this post as we examine the ideas behind ‘Manifest Destiny.’

After examining some of the origins behind American exceptionalism, we return to the 20th century with sexist advertisements of the 1950’s and 60’s. These ads and many more like them express violence and denigration towards women. It outlines clearly what a woman should be and the expectations of how and why they should behave. These attitudes continue to permeate American Society and can be seen throughout or society.

Speaking of the 50’s and 60’s, the United States would find itself in one of the messiest conflicts until this point in history: The Vietnam War. In this activity, I was able to deep dive into the American psyche through a camera lense. The mood of the country both during and after the war is highlighted in a series of films showing the evolution of the shifting perceptions within the country, and the consequences behind these events.

This leads me into my final project. A subject I find fascinating. The ultimate (and literal) death of the revolutionary dreams of the 60’s. In the late 70’s, a group of Americans fled to a Jungles in South America with dreams of creating a society equal among race, class, and gender. The social experiment of Jonestown claimed the lived of over 900 people, most of whom left the United States looking for a better life for themselves and their families. This movement is fascinating to me because it shows the side of history that is rarely taught in classrooms. It tells the dark tale of what happens when Americans feel their country has failed them.

As we move into an America more divisive than ever, studying the actions of human beings hopefully will teach us to remember the past and learn from it. Examining these historical events allows the learner to see life from the ground up, instead of the other way around. It looks at people and their response to events. I loved being able to further explore these stories and travel through time to see through the eyes of Americans. I wish to share this interest and these passions with students. By providing intersting and relevant source materials, history can come alive. It becomes real. Truth is stranger than fiction, after all, and how better to discover it than through the eyes of its people.

It was Flavor-Aid.

In the 1960s, the Temple established nine residential care facilities for the elderly and six homes for foster children in the Redwood Valley. Peoples Temple / Jonestown Gallery/flickr

Note: Topic and some photographs offer extreme/disturbing images. 

Introduction & context: In November of 1978, 918 people perished (primarily by their own hand) in a remote jungle in South America. The event rocked the United States, bringing the word ‘cult’ to mainstream culture and inspiring the callous aphorism: ‘don’t drink the Kool-Aid.’ These people, along with many others, were part of a social organization/church called ‘The Peoples Temple,’ founded by James Warren Jones. 

The passing of time and the hindsight of the ‘final day’ has overshadowed the initial intentions behind the movement. This lesson explores the reasons people were drawn too/joined the Temple, its evolution, and ultimate collapse.

This lesson examines multiple documents that span the chronology of the Peoples Temple and present the different ‘faces’ it possessed. 

The documents will help build a more personal narrative, rather than a reduction of popular culture. This allows students to think critically about who the individuals in The Peoples Temple were, and their motivations in joining and staying with the group, despite its extreme decline. 

I will ask the students to think about what was happening in the United States and why that is a significant factor. 

It is ultimately an exploration of how the systematic racism and stratification built into the fabric of the American system is largely responsible for the deaths of these people. 

Essential question: What reasons did the people of Jonestown have for joining the temple and why did they ultimately die because of it? Does American society hold culpability? If so, in what way(s)?

Assignment: Students will be exposed to multiple primary source documents and, drawing their own conclusions, asked to critically respond to the essential questions above in a short essay.

Members of Peoples Temple join the picket line in an anti-eviction protest at San Francisco’s International Hotel in January 1977. Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery/Courtesy Nancy Wong
  1. From looking at the image, what do you think some of the core values of The Peoples Temple were?
  2. Were they successful?
The Peoples Temple Choir in San Francisco, 1974.
  1. What is the message of this song?
  2. What do you feel when you hear it?
Letter from Annie Moore to her family. Original Source: California Historical Society
  1. What is Annie Moore saying in this letter?
  2. Does it change any opinions you may have had about the Peoples Temple?
A Peoples Temple member with children in the Nursery of the sectin 1978. (AFP/Getty Images)
Children from all races were raised together. This image reflects one of the core values of the Peoples Temple: racial equality.
Jim Jones with a Peoples Temple Member. California Historical Society.
David “Pop” Jackson, with Rev. James Edwards in Background, Jonestown, Guyana. California Historical Society.
‘Pop’ Jackson, pictured above, oral history. Taken from Stories From Jonestown. Fondakowski, Leigh. 2013
  1. What mood does this picture convey?
  1. Describe these poems. What are they saying?
Oral History Interview, Don Beck. Alternative Considerations on Jonestown
Jones’ Final Speech.
  1. What is happening in this tape?
  2. There are multiple voices. What are the sentiments of the people involved?
  1. The graphic and disturbing aftermath.
Nell Smart, former Temple Member. Taken from Stories From Jonestown. Fondakowski, Leigh. 2013

Vietnam War and Film

Target Audience:

This lesson is intended for 11th/12th grade students. I would love to teach a class that examines modern American history through the leanse of pop culture and media. This lesson would be nestled within a class including music, television, and movies.

Content: This lesson walks student’s through a selection of movie trailers, each depicting the Vietnam War. It moves chronologically with a series of questions/discussion prompts on each slide asking students to reflect upon how the movie trailer presents the war and the characters (both real and fictional) depicted. The point of this lesson is to examine how American social media reflects the general feelings of the nation.


  1. Students will reflect upon what they have learned about the Vietnam War so far.
  2. As we move through the slideshow, we will watch and comment upon each section of videos. Students will discuss the ways in which the War and the Characters within are portrayed. Students will discuss how they feel about what they just watched. What is the ‘mood’ of the film.
  3. We end the class by discussing how Hollywood’s depiction of the Vietnam war has changed throughout the years and why that might be. What stick out in particular. Does media still influence the way we view history?
  4. The exit ticket will be for each student to write an example of a film that displays a historical event and how the event is portrayed.

Sexist Advertisements in the Mad Men Era

Context: An alarming advertisement (date unknown) encourages men to beat their wives. It offers a pamphlet on how to properly keep your wife in line. *The modern version, written by Dr. Steve Ogan in 2013, is available on amazon under ‘self help’ books with the description: “Most men do not know how to treat their wives, especially when these women fail to play the roles divinely stipulated for them. In this book, you will discover how a husband can help his wife overcome the negative traits in her character while correcting the wrong foundations that may have been laid down in their union.”

The companion book ‘How to Beat your Husband,” also written in 2013, has a similar description: “Crucial issues are discussed here which will improve and save any marriage. Issues such as: understanding spiritual foundations in marriage, what a wife must do to win back an unfaithful husband, what a wife must do to rekindle the love of a husband who treats her with contempt.”

*Note- I find it hard to believe that this is a real modern set of books, but my research shows that it is. Please comment if you know this to be true or otherwise.

Caption Writer: What is this ad implying? Why do you think there is a modern version? What does this say about women’s role in society during the time the ad was published?

Response: The ad gives you two options- Yes and No. Both imply that ‘the husband’ has beaten their wives at some point, either currently or in the past. Sexism remains rampant and dangerous in the world. It is always the woman’s fault and they must ‘win back’ the affection of their husband, even if that means ‘getting the sense beaten into them.’

You mean a woman can open it?” (Picryl)

Context: 1953: Alcoa Aluminum’s ran this ad for soda in 1953 describing soda with bottle caps so easy to open “without a knife blade, a bottle opener, or even a husband.”

Caption writer: I will say, seeing this ad got me straight to the fridge for a cold Coca-Cola. Thank god I was able to open it without my husband! Otherwise I really don’t know what I would do.

Who is the target audience for this advertisement? What is it implying about women?

Response: This ad is clearly directed towards women. It implies that women are both weak, stupid, or both. This sort of marketing was widely accepted during this time period. It could also be appreciated by a kind and loving husband, picking up his wife a soda from the grocery store. Wait, no. Women do the shopping.

Context: Cigarette ads from the late 60’s (Picryl)

Caption Writer: I could’t choose just one with these powerful cigarette ads. One implies that the best and most worthy women are thin and rich. How does this perpetuate body image in the 1960’s? is it so different than the targeted ads of the following decades?

What is the second ad saying? Are either one of these ads problematic. Why or why not?

Response: These ads are dangerous perpetuations of negative female body image. The first one is saying that the best women are thin and rich. Two clearly defining characteristics of what it means to be a ‘worthy’ woman during this time period. It is saying that it is a woman’s job to fit into these categories in order to be desirable to a man. The second image shows a man blowing smoke into the face of a woman. This is both disrespectful and disgusting. However, it is widely acceptable to degrade women in this way. Many men still hold these actions to be acceptable. A modern example is ex-governer of New York Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in 2021 after multiple allegations of sexual abuse were reported. In Cuomo’s resignation speech he stated “”There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate”