I arrived this morning in Louisville, Kentucky for my fifth stint as a reader at the AP U.S. History Reading.  Over the next seven days, about 1,200 high school teachers and college professors from across the country will grade over one million essays (360,000 students took the exam, and each student wrote three essays).

ImageThus far, I’ve encountered one disappointment, and it has to do with the swag.  Each year the College Board gives the readers some kind of party favor.  My first year it was a sweet duffel bag that I still use from time to time, but some of them have been pretty lame, like the bookbag that ripped after about 6 months of use.  I also wasn’t a big fan of the fleece blanket from two years ago that was so small that it would barely cover one’s torso.  This year’s might take the cake, though – an umbrella and a Louisville Visitors Bureau water bottle.  It’s like we’re being taunted by the College Board. Your forecast for the next seven days: a 100% chance of horrible essays.

My disappointment with the freebies aside, though, I’m pretty pumped about a couple of things.  For one thing, they’ve made a couple of enhancements to the Fourth Street Live entertainment district (pictured above), like taking the old Borders bookstore that had been closed for the last two years and turning it into a Gordon Biersch Brewing Company.  The reading ends at 5:00 each day; that place will be plenty crowded by 5:01.

The AP Reading also gives me a great opportunity to immerse myself in social studies again as I prepare to re-enter the classroom this fall. (And as a side note, my nametag lists my affiliation as Research Triangle High School, which was really cool to me.)  The AP Reading is more than just a week of scoring exams; it’s also a fantastic professional development tool.  Each night there are opportunities to meet the committee that developed the test, hear from historians on their latest projects, and find out about proposed changes to the AP curriculum.  Learning through more informal channels also occurs; as the readers gather at Gordon Biersch to relax after 8 hours of scoring, lots of them will compare notes on how they pace their courses or teach certain units or choose what textbooks they’ll use.  I haven’t taken part in those things as much over the past couple of years since I thought I was leaving teaching, but I can’t wait to get involved with it again.

For my friends out there who teach AP courses, I strongly encourage you to apply to be a reader for your subject.  It will help you gain perspective on how your students should approach the exam and allow you to network with fantastic teachers from across the country.  You also get to spend a week in a cool city with your lodging, airfare, and meals all covered.

During the next few days, when I’m not reading exams, hanging out at the Makers Mark Lounge, or throwing down bets at Churchill Downs, I hope to share with you a little of what I pick up regarding AP U.S. History and the state of social studies education.