5 Teaching Lessons from Hamilton
July 12, 2021
By now you’ve almost certainly heard of Hamilton: An American Musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s retelling of our nation’s “10-dollar founding father,” Alexander Hamilton. With a multi-racial cast, catchy show tunes, and intricate rap-rhymes to depict our nation’s tenuous beginnings, the show has received unparalleled critical acclaim. My introduction to Hamilton began on a road trip when my oldest daughter said, “just listen to this one song.” That “one song” led to another, and ultimately culminated with my whole family going to see Hamilton in Chicago. The journey continues even today, as my waking thoughts are occasionally replaced by Hamilton lyrics.
Thankfully, the musical did more than simply infect me with an immortal earworm, it also gave me a new perspective on teaching. By offering a current rendition of this nearly 250-year-old story, Miranda compelled a whole new generation of young people to take interest in a subject they previously considered dry and unimaginative. Here are a few more timely lessons teachers should consider – courtesy of Hamilton: An American Musical!
“I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the flight. And when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.” – Hamilton, “The Story of Tonight”
The upside of being a teacher is that you have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact on the lives of your students. The downside is that you may never know the reach of that impact. But just because you may never know how your seeds will take root, it doesn’t mean you can’t be purposeful about their planting. What story would you like your students to tell? How can this year be the year they’ll tell stories about for years to come.
“I’d rather be divisive than indecisive. Drop the niceties.” – Hamilton, “A Farmer Refuted”
Be supportive and kind, but don’t shy away from giving students clear and honest feedback. Be constructive with critiques and offer frequent and timely opinions. When you present students with challenges that seem insurmountable, don’t turn around and give them the answers the minute they struggle. Stand firm in helping them develop persistence; be ready to guide them when they fail. You’re not there to make them feel nice, you’re there to make them learn.
“I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original.” –Burr, “Wait for It”
Your secret weapon as a teacher is your authenticity. They can get content from Google. They can get entertainment from Netflix. What is it that you and only you can give them? How do you help them make their learning relevant and make sense of the world around them? What is the one thing that your students would miss about you if they never saw you again? Do more of that.
“Talk less…Smile more.” – Burr, “Aaron Burr, Sir”
Students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Notice them. Call them by name. Know what makes them special and let them know you see greatness in their future. They often rise to the expectations you set for them, so set expectations high, higher than they can dream. Greet them warmly and listen to them. You might be the only person that smiles at them all day.
“I am not throwing away my shot.” – Hamilton, “My Shot”
You are presented with a most distinguished opportunity—to prepare the next generation of citizens to make the world a better place. Don’t throw away your shot!
Who could have imagined a rap musical about Alexander Hamilton would capture the hearts of millions of fans and have teenagers reaching out to explore history? We don’t know where our dreams will take us, but they won’t take us anywhere if we don’t see them through. Let’s get going!