Volunteer Voices with Tim Bowens

A respected educator with over 40 years working in the classroom, Tim Bowens became a Maltz Museum docent in 2014. In those six years, he’s interacted with thousands of visitors. We asked him to reflect on a few of his favorite experiences with us. Here’s what he had to say.

How did you get involved?

The same year the Maltz Museum opened its doors I and some fellow colleagues attended an open house on a professional development day. I enjoyed my visit so much that a few years later when I was teaching as a part-time member of the Middle Childhood Education Department at a local university, I brought my class for an educator workshop. In 2013 I attended a seminar co-led with folks from the Museum and Facing History. The following fall I fell into a perfect volunteer opportunity when I was asked to train as a docent which coincided with my retirement from full-time teaching.

What do you like about being a docent?

Each year a new exhibit or two is brought to the Maltz Museum. Staff and guest lecturers lead the docents through training both on the exhibit and related topics. I feel so engaged during these presentations and it makes me excited about another season of tours working with the fine group of fellow docents. As I walk into the museum I try to anticipate what will make the next tour better than the last one I led. Arriving early is important as I can check in with the other docents and decide how we will move through the various galleries offering the students the best possible experience. In addition to the staff and guest presenters, I have learned so much from the other docents both on content and presentation.

What’s it like leading a tour?

Each tour is different and that is part of the adventure. Some teachers have done an excellent job of preparing their students and some have not. Some groups have lots of questions and others seem hesitant to speak. I begin my tours by encouraging students and teachers to ask questions and stop if they find something interesting. Before the tour, we are given information provided by the school or organization. Often the information is curriculum-related and pertains to what the students are currently studying.

Do you have a tour that stands out for any reason?

This past February, I did a tour sponsored by an organization focused on the promotion and engagement in international studies. I was told they had varying degrees of English proficiency. I was able to chat with the three supervising adults before the tour began and learned it was a group of high school students staying and visiting in northeast Ohio for a few weeks. This was to be a Stop the Hate tour. As the tour evolved, I was so impressed with this group of young people. Some were very fluent in English and these folks would stop from time to time to help in translating for those not as fluent. The students displayed collegiality.

The moment that really stood out was when we were in the “Hate Room” discussing locations of various hate groups using maps. Like I do with all groups, I told students about an online map on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website. As we left the room a student had her phone handy and asked me to repeat the site so she could type it in. This crystalized to me that she was going to follow-up the information presented to her, which is a sign of a curious mind!

As tours end I often find myself practicing that “teacher skill” of reflection asking myself questions: What went well? What questions could I have asked? What can I do to make my next tour better?

Sharing with other docents how the tour went and how the group responded is an important part of the tour for me. At the conclusion of this particular tour, the other docent and I marveled at this group and their grasp not only of a second language, but also abstract concepts.

To become a volunteer docent, please contact Aaron Bane at wbane@mmjh.org