February 2021

Teachers Are Like Rail Maintenance Officers


Prior to the 1800s a waterway would have been the primary route of transportation in the United States. When you look at a water system, it includes many curves and tributaries, making navigation seem impossible to those lacking nautical knowledge. In the 1800s America saw the development of the railroad which transformed communication and transportation (Dilts, 1996). Unlike a waterway, the rails connect, and guide the train to its destination at a much faster pace.

The same holds true for teaching any kind of social studies curriculum. Educators must piece together each rail in order to show students genuine connections between events or concepts. By piecing the rails together, one by one, the possibilities are endless for students to connect with the history, geography, government, psychology, and even economics behind the concept.

Social studies educators have the unique opportunity of not only teaching a required concept but also linking that concept to current events. One might even say that social studies educators are the “rail maintenance officers” and the students are the engineers, making connections that will one day change the way we see life. We can only hope that by piecing together each individual rail, a student sees the opportunity to extend the rail and create a new thought or strategy from it.

When the railroad first came to America, it took time for legislators and administrators to jump on the train, excuse my pun, and ride the rails with the engineers. Once they did, they transformed America into a new country and expanded its horizons. Not only were horizons expanded, but territory. Many new discoveries from the expansion of the railroad made, and continues to make, America a global powerhouse today.

As we continue introducing students to new information, rail by rail, we must hand over the rails in order for them to make connections. By choosing active learning activities, educators increase student awareness and connections in concepts (Armstrong, 2016). This gives students the ability to think for themselves, make connections, build a longer rail system, and use critical thinking skills necessary for success in and out of the classroom.

Our students are the future citizens of our society, they will make the decisions one day. We don’t want our future society to have missing rails, unkempt tracks, and divided systems. Educators must guide students in successfully building rail systems that benefit our society and help us learn from past mistakes. The train does not run on a broken rail, the track must be fastened precisely for successful passage.

  • Dr. Amy L. Holland, Geography teacher
    Grimsley Junior High School, Bentonville, Arkansas


Armstrong, T. (2016). The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students. ASCD.

Dilts, J.D. (1993). The Great Road: The Building of the Baltimore and Ohio, The Nation’s First Railroad, 1828-1853. Stanford University Press.

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