Marc Franzblau is the fourth grade social studies teacher at AF Bushwick Elementary. We sat down with him to learn more about his class.
Tell us about yourself and your background. What brought you to your current role?
After graduating from the College of Charleston with a degree in history, I joined the Peace Corps in Guatemala. I was a health and life skills teacher there, and that experience got me interested in teaching and social justice. Afterward, I knew I wanted to become a teacher, so I got my master’s in education at St. John’s University. I have been teaching for six years, with four of those at AF Bushwick Elementary.
I was a third grade literature and writing teacher for my first two years at AF, but I saw the amazing social studies curriculum and I thought it would be a perfect fit for me. I loved studying history in college, and I felt really excited about teaching it every day to kids. There was a time when I considered becoming a history professor, so this role is a perfect combination of many of my passions.
We heard you’re an expert on sharing historical context and making connections to current events during your lessons. How do you approach this intersection between past and present? How does that resonate with scholars?
I remember sitting in social studies class as a kid and desperately wanting to learn about what was happening in the present day, too. I was going home and reading the newspaper or watching the news every day, and I always felt dissatisfied that my teachers would never address current events.
Last year, in my first year in the role, I remember being particularly moved with the Terrence Crutcher police shooting, and I just felt like I had to discuss what happened with my students. Then, with last year’s election, my kids were eager to discuss what was happening in the news or ask questions about it.
I always tell my students that the first step to changing the world is to be knowledgeable about it. And in our current time, history is even more important. So, whenever something is happening in the news, I take a couple minutes from class to talk about it or take a whole flex lesson to fully study it if it is a big issue.
This focus has made a really big difference in my class. Students are more invested in the content and want to learn social studies and history because they see how it’s important to their life now.
Can you share an example of bringing history to life?
Our fourth graders went on an amazing field trip recently that I feel everyone should go on, especially all AF Brooklyn schools. Right here, in Brooklyn, was a very successful free African-American community that dates all the way back to the 1830s. Within this community, the residents established schools, churches and benevolent associations and were active in the abolitionist movement. The community has been preserved, and our students learned a lot about local history. It is called Weeksville Heritage Center, and I felt that students (and teachers!) really took a lot away from the trip.
You recently started a Student Government. Can you tell us more about that?
Last year, students took a survey, and many said they wanted to have more of a voice in our school. Students felt like they needed a way to share thoughts that might not otherwise come to the school’s or a teacher’s attention. Therefore, I wanted to create a student government that centered on making sure scholars had a place to share their voice. Each grade has a representative that students can sit with at lunch and talk to about ideas that they have for the school. Through this, they’re learning that a major part of their roles (and government in general) is constituent service.
The most important topic Student Government has been working on so far is bullying. Right now, our student government members are finding classmates we are struggling and finding ways to make them feel more included. For example, one student has pledged to sit with different students once a week at lunch. Another student has gone out of their way to make sure that a student with special needs has someone to play with at recess.
What about teaching makes you feel most connected to AF’s mission?
My dream is that my students will feel inspired about social studies and history and want to become a leader of our community. It is so clear that our world needs more elected officials of color. I hope that my class inspires an interest in government and public service.
Thank you, Marc! Hopefully, we’ll be seeing some of your scholars on the ballot or elsewhere in community leadership soon.