Social studies teacher discovers how stories of the past serve as a tool for understanding the present

Photo of NBCT social studies teacher Vince Vinluan.My name is Vince Vinluan, and I’m entering my 17th year of teaching, all in Chicago Public Schools. I currently teach AP United States History and Honors Sociology and serve as the Social Studies Department Chair in my high school. 

When I first got into education, it was because I wanted to share my love of history and social studies with my students. As a person of color, I thought that it was important that the historical narrative was reflective of me and my own experiences. I wanted to ensure that, as a teacher, I could create a culturally relevant curriculum for students because it is empowering to see people who look like us creating positive change within communities and society. 

As I have continued teaching and through what I have learned during my National Board Certification journey, I have begun to understand that not only do the stories of the past serve as a tool for understanding the present, but they are a vehicle which students can utilize to learn the skills necessary to be successful inside and outside of the classroom.  

By understanding the stories and themes of history and developing these historical thinking skills, my students are better equipped to be active and knowledgeable citizens and are better able to understand, critically think about, and solve the problems of the 21st century. My journey to becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) solidified my passion for teaching and, more importantly, gave me the tools to better help my students to meet these goals. 

When I embarked on my two-year journey to become a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) in 2020, I was in my 15th year as a social studies educator and beginning to grow stagnant in my teaching practice. I wanted to engage in professional development that would rejuvenate me and help me grow. I considered getting a second master’s degree or even going back to earn a PhD or EdD. However, I kept returning to a third option — National Board Certification.  

Over the years, some of the most reflective and engaging educators I knew were NBCTs. After talking about this decision with them and attending the initial informational meeting for the CTU Foundation Quest Center’s Nurturing Teacher Leadership (NTL) candidate support program, I decided that this was the right path for me. 

Embarking on the NBCT process through NTL provided me with knowledgeable and trusted mentors and a cohort of colleagues from across the district to lean on and guide me through the process. In the uncertainty of the pandemic, my NTL cohort and mentors gave me stability. We not only helped each other through the NBC process but also through the struggles of teaching and remote learning. 

We pushed each other to think about why we made the pedagogical decisions we made and how these decisions would impact student learning. We gave each other feedback and advice on upcoming lessons, varying ways to differentiate instruction, how to better collect and use student data to inform instruction, and how to facilitate better class discussions. I used all of this knowledge to create portfolio entries delineating my students’ growth, improve my teaching which I showcased through videotapes of my practice with detailed self-analysis, and prepare for exams that measured my pedagogical and content area expertise.

It was because of this collaboration that I grew professionally. With the help of my peers and mentors I began creating more authentic lessons that pushed students to think about how history and social studies could be used to solve 21st century problems. In my sociology class, I developed lessons in which my students not only learned about and discussed race and racism but used their sociological understanding of these concepts to develop solutions to the achievement/opportunity gap that existed at our school. 

For example, my Advanced Placement United States history students not only talked about American foreign policy, but they used their knowledge of U.S. history and current events to come to consensus on what actions they thought the United States should take in the war in Ukraine. 

Even more importantly, my NTL cohort helped me with my biggest struggle — differentiating instruction for my students. While I was able to push my students who already excelled, I sometimes had difficulty engaging struggling students. My cohort provided a space to learn from other teachers and develop strategies to scaffold lessons and create multiple access points so that all my students could engage in these discussions. 

In NTL, I learned how to break down complex readings into manageable chunks, understand students’ metacognitive processes to better help them share their thoughts in writing and discussion, and teach students different strategies so they felt more comfortable participating in classroom discourse. After these improvements to my practice, my students, who previously had been hesitant to participate, were more willing to engage in productive struggle. As a result, they developed an understanding of how history and social studies could give them agency in solving real world problems.  Thank you to my mentors and NBC candidate-colleagues.

Reflecting on the last two years, I know that going down the path of becoming an NBCT was the right decision for me. My students grew as historians and social scientists and improved as writers and critical thinkers. My AP students saw increased scores on the national AP exam. I became a more reflective teacher and am better equipped at scaffolding and differentiating instruction so that all students see success in my class.  

While my two years in the NTL program were arduous, it was exactly the professional development that I needed to rejuvenate my practice and help me grow as an educator to better serve the needs of all my students. I hope more CPS teachers interested in further development in their professional lives will embark on the journey to become National Board Certified as well.

Vince Vinluan is a National Board Certified social studies and history teacher in CPS.