Harvey Abram is a former LAUSD teacher and current Skirball school tour docent, as well as a member of the Skirball Docent Corps. With over thirty years of teaching experience, Harvey shares his insights about creating connections and the value of lifelong learning.
Tell us about your career as a classroom teacher.
In the early ’80s, I started teaching Grade 1 and 2 students at San Pedro St. Elementary School located in downtown Los Angeles. Subsequently, I moved to Van Gogh Elementary School in Granada Hills where I taught Grade 3 for thirty years. Each year, my students enjoyed touring At Home in LA at the Skirball.
Who were some of the teachers or educators who inspired you to become a teacher? What do you think made them so special?
I most appreciate the dedication and patience of my music teachers, from Mr. Valentine, who taught me flute in Grade 3, to Mr. Pope, the conductor of our high school marching band. I was lucky to have an amazing history teacher, Professor Sefton, who instilled my passion for lifelong learning. I am especially grateful to my mom, Marcia, the high school librarian who showed me how to shelve books and repair bindings; it’s all about respecting and preserving our stories.
What led you to become a docent at the Skirball?
After visiting the Skirball, my third graders would write and illustrate a paper and then share their discoveries with their classmates. The children helped me appreciate the positive impact the Skirball has on visitors of all ages. After several visits, I aspired to one day lead similar tours. Having just completed my first year [as a Skirball docent], I have enjoyed listening to and learning from many other docents, speakers, and staff. My wife and I love visiting all kinds of museums, both locally and when we travel. Whether it’s a museum in Manhattan or Venice, we always try signing up for docent-led guided tours.
What advice do you have for teachers who are just starting out in their teaching careers?
- Try to empathize with your students.
- No matter how much you plan, be flexible.
- Focus on what your students are doing right.
- Never stop learning new tricks and strategies.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a mentor for help or advice.
- Take care of yourself so you can be your greatest.
Please share a favorite memory or moment as a school tour docent.
I just love it when a student makes a connection and really understands an idea. On a Grade 6 Archaeology of the Near East tour in the Discovery Center, students were classifying clay oil lamps based upon their shapes and decorations. Later, at the outdoor dig site, a student hypothesized that the ancient olive press was needed to produce enough oil to burn for light and ceremonies. I enjoy watching students become energized the moment their light bulbs click.
As a Skirball docent, what advice would you share with classroom teachers?
During tours, docents might ask your students some tough questions, especially when we want them to contemplate for a while. It’s challenging for teachers and chaperones to refrain from providing help and whispering their ideas. The best advice I can share is to allow plenty of time for students to ponder.
As a former classroom teacher, what advice would you share with your fellow Skirball docents?
Try to include each and every child during group discussions. Those shy ones hiding in back often have the most valuable insights when encouraged to share.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
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