Mr. Eric Hammer

English and History/Social Studies teacher at New York City public schools, Yeshiva Tifereth Yisroel, Yeshiva of Queens


I was a classroom teacher for about seven years and then moved over to being a full time professional freelance writer, focused mostly on investing and personal finance.

I teach: English, history, social studies

To ages: 10 to 21


November 11, 2012

The American Federation of Teachers, of which I have been a member for some time, offers a wealth of materials specifically (I think) for new teachers. They offer a number of webinars which are useful when you first begin your teaching career in helping to educate you about some of the pitfalls of being a teacher and how to handle certain situations. Experienced teachers may find the material a bit repetitive since we know most of the basics, but for those in their first year or even first few years of teaching, this is an invaluable resource.

To be honest, Fraunces Tavern itself was kind of a bust for my students. I taught middle school and they were pretty bored with the visit to the museum, which is fairly small and which doesn’t have the staff to properly handle a group of children on a field trip. However, their downloadable materials are quite good because they can be used to teach your children about what life was like during the period of the Revolutionary War. They include all kinds of things which appeal to the younger age group (I found that 6th graders liked it but the 8th graders would not have been interested). For example, there are word finds and even shopping lists which would have been used by people in the Tavern.

By the way, for those not familiar, Fraunces Tavern is where George Washington bid farewell to his officers after the Revolutionary War was over. As I said, the museum is pretty small and not terribly interesting for children (I think anyway), but it is an important reference point to use in the teaching of the war.

November 3, 2012

As a teacher, I created a special Google Mail account to use with my students. This allowed me to offer them something truly invaluable. First and foremost, my students could submit their work to me electronically. This meant that they didn't need to print it out and didn't need to worry about forgetting it at home (no more of "the dog ate my homework" either). I also appreciated it for the simple reason that when the kids submitted on GMail, I didn't need to worry about unreadable fonts or worse, unreadable handwriting. If the font looked funny, I just popped the thing into my word processor, selected the whole thing and changed it to standard Arial.

In addition to this, having this tool allowed me to tell my students they could contact me with whatever questions they wanted to ask me. If something wasn't clear, if they weren't sure which piece of homework they missed, if they simply didn't understand something and wanted extra help, they could always contact me.

Now I know that pretty much any e-mail service will do the same job, but the nice thing about GMail is that the massive amount of storage and excellent search capability meant that I didn't need to store my student's work on my home computer. I could simply call it up from the cloud and reference it whenever I needed it. This meant at a parent teacher conference, I wasn't stuck lugging around 120 book reports. Instead, I just took out my netbook, popped up a student's work on Gmail and then showed it to the parents in order to discuss it with them.

I took my students on a tour of Ellis Island, but it would have been a waste to take them there had I not prepped them with some of the materials available free of charge from the national park. These materials include both lesson plans and handouts which can be used to teach your students all about immigrant life in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I also believe that this material can be useful to your students even if you don't actually visit the museum, though of course, nothing beats hands on if you are able to do so (if you do plan to take your students, be sure to leave as early as possible. Even with reservations, you need to go through security and the line can take hours).

Teaching the concepts of the Holocaust is simply impossible without the invaluable help of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. While the Washington DC museum is much better known (and Israel's Yad Vashem better known still), this museum's unique take on the holocaust is what allowed me to offer my students a real perspective about it. The material they offer (which is incredible for both its breadth and depth — and much of it is free, including handouts for your students) doesn't just talk about the Holocaust. It also discusses what Jewish life was like before the Holocaust and what it's like today. This means that it's possible to humanize the Jewish people for my students in a way that a more narrowly focused museum such as the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington cannot do. It allowed me to show my students that the Jews were not just victims of an atrocity but that they were real, ordinary people just like them.

I also attended several of the summer workshop classes at the museum and these are absolutely wonderful, offering you the kind of in depth training that most people pay thousands of dollars for. The classes are free (or at least they were when I took them) and if you are a New York City public school teacher, they offer P credit toward earning a higher paycheck.

November 3, 2012

This was a somewhat unusual tool for me because I was in fact teaching English and Social Studies, not math. However, I used the Stock Market Game in a rather unique way in my Social Studies class. In essence, I let the kids create their portfolios and then had them read newspapers to track information about the stocks they'd chosen. I then used these as a springboard to discuss what it means to live in an interconnected world. For example, I was able to use this material to explain how something like the BP oil spill could affect oil stocks' prices, even when those stocks were not necessary BP itself.

October 29, 2012

It's pretty natural to absolutely love PBS' tools for the classroom. They offer videos, worksheets and multimedia material which is simply invaluable for a pretty much any kind of classroom. Personally, I've made use PBS' excellent history material when teaching about the American revolution. They have dozens of professional, ready to use lesson plans which allowed me to help my students to explore why our country went to war and why it was in fact not so clear cut that all Americans wanted to go to war.

As an aside regarding that last point, as a teacher in Brooklyn, NY I often pointed out that the area was a Loyalist stronghold which got my students riled up no end, but was an excellent teaching point.

September 18, 2012

YouTube is a duel edged sword for the teacher in my opinion. The thing that makes it incredibly valuable is when you use it to show your students specific videos which have been made available there (admittedly, some of them without the permission of the copyright holders). Personally, I have used it to show my students clips from the Original Twilight Zone which are particularly provocative (i.e. the reveal scene from Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder and the cookbook scene from To Serve Man). These can be used as springboards for discussions about social studies topics and to get the kids thinking in brand new directions. However, I not recommend plopping the kids down in the computer room and allowing them to use YouTube for "research." Inevitably, you'll waste your time running around stopping them from watching music videos and other time wasters.

September 18, 2012

I found edhelper to be absolutely invaluable when teaching English. They offer lists of ready made vocabulary words, reading comprehension material and ready made lessons on how to write various kinds of poetry. The service does offer a wealth of free material, though some of the material is set up behind a pay wall. As someone who has paid for that paid feature, I can say that it was well worth it. I saved hours tracking down material on how to do some of the more esoteric kinds of poems (as opposed to just teaching how to write a Haiku).