Monthly Archives: March 2012

Civil War Lesson Plans

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

I wrote these lesson plans a couple of years ago for the History Channel’s Civil War Preservation Trust. Please feel free to duplicate this material for your classrooms.

Approximate Length of Time: 50-70 minutes


Students will be able to understand the important roles animals pets had in the Civil War by gaining the affection of the soldiers on the battlefields and reminding them of their lives back home.


1. Students will be able to compare and contrast the benefits and disadvantages of having different animal pets.

2. Students will be able to identify how having a pet would have made the soldiers feel more at home on the battlefield.


Anticipatory Set/Hook:

Who has a pet? What makes a pet so special? Have there been times when your pet made you feel better about a situation or made you forgot about something that wasn’t so pleasant? Why do pets make people feel good?


1. Ask students the importance of having a pet to some people. Ask them why some people chose to have a pet in their lives.

Possible Answers: Pets make people feel good and they give people unconditional support from an affectionate being. People and pets gain each other’s loyalty and affection.

2. As a class create a list of pets students have at home.

If time permits, you can have students create bar/line graphs with the animals and numbers they provided.

3. Watch the Civil War video on the The Civil War part of ‘America: the Story of Us’will give the student a good perception of the war and its impact on the nation. After watching the video, ask the students about how they think the soldiers felt being part of the war. Have them give examples of what would have made the soldiers feel a little better about the situations they were in during the war.

Possible Answers: Soldiers wrote letters to their family members. Soldiers had pets with them at the camp.

4. Have a discussion with the students about why a soldier would have enjoyed the company of a pet during a war. Have the students complete the KWL of animal mascots and evaluate their previous knowledge on the content. Use the provided KWL Handout. The KWL handout can remain with the students because they will need to complete the L section at the end of the entire unit to demonstrate what they have learned about animal mascots.

5. Students Read: The Horse In the Civil War by Deborah Grace

6. After students read the selection, they can then compare the benefits of having either a dog or horse in the war. Give students write specific examples on what benefits or disadvantages came with having either animal.

7. Have a discussion about how much loyalty the animals would have built towards the general and soldiers and discuss what would have happened had one of the animals come up missing. Have students complete the ‘Mad as a Wet Hen’ handout.

8. Discuss the illustrations by Frank Leslie and how animals would have reacted towards wounded soldiers using the Handout and Transparency.


Why were animal mascots important to the soldiers during the civil war? How did having an animal around the company make the soldiers feel? What animals were most common to appear to be part of the different regiments?


Teacher can assess the students with the Mascot assessment and the Tri-fold Board Rubric.

Kinesthetic Leader: This lesson can be enhanced by having the students participate in a real life Civil War reenactment. Students can be divided into two separate groups. The reenactment can be of one of the battles, topped off with one student dressed as Abraham Lincoln and making the Gettysburg Address.

Rigorous Assessment: Students that demonstrate a higher understanding of the Civil War can be challenged with a more rigorous assignment of creating a bulletin board that demonstrates what the two sides were fighting for during the war. See Rigorous Assessment Rubric for more detail on grading and assignment expectation.

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Filed under Classroom Teachers, Education, Teaching

Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

Since 1984, Met Life has been conducting an annual survey asking teachers, parents and students their level of satisfaction within the teaching profession.

According to this year’s survey results, “Teachers are less satisfied with their careers; in the past two years there has been a significant decline in teachers’ satisfaction with their profession.”

This makes me wonder, why are there so many unsatisfied teachers out there? What makes a teacher less likely to stay in the profession and why are there so many schools full of younger teaching staff?

The answers are very clear. One of the reasons it is so hard to retain teachers today than ever before is because women today have so many more career options than they did in previous years. Years ago, a woman was expected to become either a teacher or a nurse.

Last week, I attended Grand Valley State University’s Learning Network in Detroit, Michigan. Presenter Dr. Richard Lemon did a wonderful job analyzing all of the different reasons behind the teacher attrition.

After attending the workshop and having various conversations with colleagues within the teaching profession, here are three reasons on why so many teachers are not satisfied with the teaching profession:

  • Job Security: There are fewer jobs today that are actually able to hold on to a person for over thirty years. New and incoming teachers are not as interested in staying in the profession because they’ve got more career options available with bigger pay and more benefits. They barely make the five year hurtle anymore. Teachers with stronger academic backgrounds are also more likely to leave the profession.  Some of these are moving on to administrative roles within their buildings, while others are jumping to different careers all together.
  • New School Challenges: Since there are so many charter schools opening, the highest teacher turnover takes place in charter schools. This is because the school’s culture hasn’t been set in stone and because there are so many things to do, most of the staff members at a new school have to work overtime which translates to putting in more work for volunteer hours.
  • Lack of Professional Development:  Higher expectation is placed on teachers and in most cases, the training isn’t always provided. Some teachers are not provided with the opportunity to attend valuable and research-based training in the different areas that would help them improve their craft, whether it is behavior management, creating a highly effective classroom, differentiated instruction, etc.

What can we do today to help keep more teachers? Here is my advice on how to retain more teachers:

  • Strong Mentoring Programs: The power of mentoring goes a long way in the teaching profession. I think back to my first couple years of teaching and how encouraging my mentors were to me. I was even fortunate enough to have an instructional coach when I first started teaching. Providing that extra support to new teachers will help them identifying their weaknesses and provide assistance so that they can master their skills. Without a strong mentoring program, a new teacher can easily get overwhelmed with all of the different requirements.
  • Professional Learning Communities: The use of PLC’s is so important in a building because they help utilize everyone’s true potential and help maintain a more productive work environment. Most schools also utilize a more vertical alignment with their staff discussions. Having the opportunity to communicate with other staff members enhances that “let’s work smarter, not harder” way of thinking. 
  • Train! Train! Train! The expectation on having a highly engaged classroom is even bigger today than ever before, especially with all the talks behind being a highly qualified teacher. It’s important to give feedback after observing a teacher, but it’s even more important to follow that feedback with valuable skills they can actually use in their classrooms. If you know that one of your teachers is having a hard time with behavior management, then give him/her the opportunity to attend a professional development on the topic. A very economical way of doing this would be to have them observe another teacher in the building that has masters that skill. Sometimes, utilizing other staff members in the building can be our best resource.

Just like any other job, it takes years of practice to master one’s teaching skills. Like defined in the book Outliners: The Story of Success, it really does take 10,000 hours to become a skilled professional in any field and teachers are no exception to that rule. If we want more teachers returning to the profession, than we’ve got to provide them with the support system that will make them more interested in staying. No matter how much money or time it will take to train our staff members, just keep in mind that it will take even more time and money to train someone completely new. With the proper feedback and training, every teacher can become a great teacher and if we help them master their teaching skills, then they will become much more interested in staying.


Filed under Classroom Teachers, Education, Teaching