Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Wall Came Tumblin' Down (Dear Katie V3 #11)

Dear Katie,

Sometimes there will be days when you teach that you will have to throw away the lesson.  Some days will be because of tragedies such as 9/11 or ones on a more local level.  Other days will be due to uplifting moments in history, such as my first encounter with "ditching the lesson" when I was a student teacher.

You have to remember that by the late 80's, CNN was the only 24 hour news service and social media was regulated to a wall outside our college's bookstore where people could post opinions and ideas (usually rants and complaints, so nothing has changed).  My school did not have cable hookup in the rooms so the only TV we received were the channels coming out of NYC through our TV's antennas.

November 9 was a typical school night in college.  A bunch of us would spend time talking in my friends Bill & Tom's room on the 7th floor to end the night.  As the clock went past 11, and being a school night, it was time for us to get some sleep.  For me, I needed to get ready for student teaching at Blue Mountain Middle School in Montrose, NY.

I headed off for my dorm room, turned the TV on to catch the beginning of the Tonight Show before I went to bed.  I caught the very end of WNBC-NY 11 o'clock news showing people dancing on a wall & thought to myself,

"It looks like the Berlin Wall, but it can't be, those people would be shot." 

The next morning, I woke up, showered, and headed down to the cafeteria to have breakfast.  As I usually did, I walked through the mailroom to check my mailbox before getting to my car.  In the middle of the room was a USA Today newspaper box, and the headline confirmed what had happened.  The Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War's animosity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the Wall that many of us would be brought down by mortar shells, was being taken apart peacefully with picks and sledgehammers.

Needless to say my cooperating teacher & I threw out the lesson for that day.  

It was a great class period.  First my cooperating teacher and I shared with each other what we heard on the news or read in the paper before the students came in to class (remember, no Internet).  The class period we shared what we knew (it was sketchy), the history of the wall, and just took questions as the kids were absorbed and taken with the history they were living.

For the first 5 years I taught, the Fall of the Berlin Wall was a great lesson.  For me, it was one of those moments of knowing "Where you were when you first heard about..." along with the Space Shuttle Exploding, President Reagan getting shot, and the ball going through Bill Buckner's legs.  My students were into it because for them it was relevant history.  They remembered the Cold War and saw this as the symbol of the beginning of the end of that time period of history.

Growing up we never thought the Soviet Union 
would end without a Third World War.

As the new millennium hit, and I was now teaching students born after the Cold War, I realized that for them there was no context to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  I remember showing them a video of people racing from both sides of Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie, embracing people on the other side.  For me, a moving scene, for my students born in the 90's it led to the question, "Why are they so happy?"

Remember this as you teach.  For you September 11, 2001, was a traumatic day.  You can remember where you were with vivid detail.  Your students were not even born when it happened.  It means little to them, so you need to deliver in rich details to provide the context.

How are you going to make events 
outside their sphere of experience relevant to them?

Uncle Kevin

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