A short history of Constitution Day for teachers

Constitution Day is celebrated every September 17th to mark and honor the date that the US Constitution was first signed back in 1787, as well as citizen's rights and obligations related to this important document.

To understand the history and the importance of Constitution Day, we should briefly look into the Constitution itself.

Brief Look at History of US Constitution

The Constitution is probably the most important document in the US history. The Constitution first defined the USA in the regulatory sense and made the union a functional, united country.

On July 4, 1776, the founding fathers of the United States signed the Declaration of Independence, which ended the country's colonial status. However, it wasn't until September 17th, 1787 that a true government was formed, turning 13 former British colonies into a unified country. That happened by the act of signing the Constitution.

It could be said that while the Fourth of July represents the birthday of the American nation, September 17th is the birthday of the American government. That is why Constitution Day, which is celebrated every year on September 17th, is such an important holiday.

Short History of Constitution Day

Contrary to its importance, Constitution Day is quite a novel national holiday.

Constitution Day evolved from the so-called ''I Am An American Day'' which was celebrated since May 1940. The goal of this day was to create an opportunity for all those who had become American citizens through the coming-of-age or naturalization process to celebrate their belonging to the American nation.

In 1952, the event was moved to September 17th, correlating it with the signing of Constitution. The name of the holiday was changed to "Citizenship Day". The essence of the holiday remained the same as with the "I Am An American Day", except that there was some more emphasis on citizens, their rights and obligations as a part of the American Republic.

In 1997,  Louise Leigh founded a nonprofit organization called Constitution Day, Inc. to help support recognition of the importance of the holiday, as well as to emphasize the value and greatness of the Constitution itself.

Finally, in 2004. West Virginia senator Robert Byrd prompted that ''Citizenship Day'' should be changed to ''Constitution Day and Citizenship Day''. The former "Citizenship Day" was primarily focused on new American citizens, but Byrd reasoned that every established American citizen should also celebrate the most important legal document of the United States of America. In May 2005, the United States Department of Education backed the Byrd's amendment that was going to apply the holiday in all schools that were receiving federal funds of any kind. Since then, Constitution Day has a special place in the US public education system. The tradition of honoring the Constitution continues.

Looking for a low prep option this Constitution Day? Why not check out my Constitution Day Celebration Study? Students love this resources and learn so much about Constitution Day from it. 

Five ways to get to know your students

The beginning of the new school year is an exciting and stressful time when you have a brand new class. Fortunately, there are tried-and-tested activities to help you deal with basic responsibilities such as remembering names and creating that first bond with your students.

Here are five ways to get to know your students.

 "What's Behind Your Name?"

Remembering names is very important, since knowing somebody's name is the first natural icebreaker in a conversation. Students might pretend not to care, but all of them will appreciate if you memorize their name quickly and correctly. 

The "What's Your Name" or "What's Behind Your Name" game goes deeper than just memorizing names. It is about what names mean and student's relationships to their names.

Create simple forms with questions about student's names. Some ideas for questions are:

  • What's your first name?
  • Do you have a second name as well?
  • What's the meaning of your name?
  • What's your name's country of origin?
  • Who choose your name and why?
  • Would you like to have a different name, and which one?
  • Do you have a nickname?
  • Can you draw your name in a fun way at the bottom of this page?

For younger students, point out that it is fine for their parents to help, and the parent-child team can then write two names at the bottom of the page instead of one.

You can put the forms on display in the classroom and take some time each day to let children introduce themselves with the help of their sheet. They should pick two to three questions about their names they will present in front of you and the others.

Although you will be dealing with a lot of new information, you will see that both you and other students will miraculously remember new names quickly. 

Sharing Personal Artifacts

Organise sharing personal artifacts that show student's interests. Sharing can take place on a bulletin board, a designated wall, or in a class scrapbook which students will pass among themselves. Items can include pictures, postcards, or other convenient items which tell a personal story about a student. These are good conversation starters. Another great benefit of this activity is that personal items can say a lot about students with a few words, which will benefit shy children.

Classroom Card Game

Help your students create index cards with basic information about themselves: name, birthday, siblings, pets, hobbies, and activities in and out of school. They can even draw a portrait of themselves. You will stack the cards and each day the student whose card is on the top will get special attention. You can ask the student to introduce him or herself, and then make him/her your assistant for the day. Interact with each student in a way that will make them feel special.

One-to-One Time

When getting to know your new class, never forget the importance of one-to-one conferring. Children tend to act differently in a group, and besides, one-to-one attention builds trust and prevents the formation of toxic relationships.

Make a list of your students and dedicate some discrete time to one student each day. Try to make it light and non-threatening. Calling the conversation sessions "interviews" or "small talk" might aid that.

The Parents

From early on, it is beneficial to find a way to include parents into the classroom life, since you can learn a lot about the child from their parents or guardians. If there is a cause your students are particularly passionate about, you could organize a benefit party with the help from their parents. This will bring the entire parent-student class community closer together, to the benefit of all.