May 22, 2012

A history lesson

This being the last day of school and all, I'm going to tell you about my favorite part of the 2011-2012 school year...

I just finished teaching a unit about World War II to fourth graders.

It made me really happy.  Happier than anything academic (or work-related) had made me in a long time.

I spent most of college taking history classes.

I took the core classes I needed, I took my education classes, and anytime I needed extra credits, I took history classes.  So many, in fact, that I built up a Minor.  I just never finished it because I had to do some project or something to finalize it and student-teaching-is-really-hard-work-and-I-had-other-things-to-worry-about-in-May-of-2008.  So I ended up with a "concentration" in History and I'm certified to teach Social Studies.

Me in front of Paul Revere's house, Boston 2011
I think history is a becoming a lost art.  Few Americans actually know our country's history.  It makes me sad and mad at the same time.  Sad because something has been lost to our generation.  Mad because how dare someone call themselves an American when they don't know the first thing about our country.  I've had 4th graders tell me that the Pilgrims came on the Mayflower in 1867.  I've heard adults say the same thing. (For the record, it was 1620.)

I pride myself on teaching history to my students.  If I never have another teaching job again, I'll be satisfied and proud to know that I taught them the real story behind Columbus Day, and I taught them about the Holocaust and what a nut job Hitler was and how Germany let him come to power.  These students called Anne Frank both "pretty" and "awesome" and now they want to read her diary.  I'll be happy that I read them Farmer Boy and that I explained what Japanese internment camps were and why they existed.  I'll be pleased that they now know who Paul Revere is.  I'll be thrilled when they can tell others that "people" originated in the Middle East and migrated to North America via a land bridge that connected Russia to Alaska.

Who's showed the kids primary and secondary sources about the sinking of the Titanic??  That's right.  This girl.

Me on the Mayflower replica, Plymouth 2011
I get a special little thrill when they ask me to explain something of historical significance.  I love it when I catch them squinting at the copy of the Declaration of Independence I have hanging on the wall and trying to read the language and make sense of it.   I happily answer any questions that they have.  For example, "Well, WWI started when all of these countries who were really close together just couldn't get along and then someone assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary..."

Their reaction to the protests and violence that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement?  Priceless.  I got to explain what segregation was and why it started to a group of kids who had no knowledge of such things.  They never dreamed something like that was in their country's history.  They were pretty appalled!  (Which is actually a testament to how far we've come since the 1960s..)

When I see the kids reading I Survived:  The Sinking of the Titanic (the "most-read" book from the bookshelf), I Survived:  The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, or anything Dear America or American Girl, I get giddy inside.  I always start a conversation with them about whatever historical fiction book they're reading.  I want to answer their questions.  I want to help them understand.  The more they can make sense of it, the more the dots will connect.  The more the dots connect, the more likely they are to

Granary Burial Ground, Boston, 2010
 These kids know that I can, and usually will, turn anything into a history lesson.  I mapped out Lewis and Clark's route during the second week of school. 

In front of Laura Ingalls Wilder's house, Mansfield, MO, 2009
I had a block of time last week in which I was to teach nothing but Social Studies.  I asked the kids what they wanted to learn before fourth grade was over.  I said I'd teach them anything they wanted to know.  Some wanted to learn about the Oregon Trail.  Some wanted to learn about Nazis (We read Number the Stars.  They do NOT like Nazis and, if you ask me, they wanted a reason to get all riled up about it again.)  Most wanted to learn about World War II.

I'm so glad that I got to teach them just a little bit of world history before fourth grade was over.  Just yesterday a student told me how she downloaded the Diary of Anne Frank onto her mom's Kindle and watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas over the weekend.  Be still my heart.  My purpose has been served.

So what about you?  Do you know your history?  I'll try not to judge you if you don't.  After all, I can't do math.  


  1. I love history! (and math - my favorite subject is algebra) But I prefer ancient history - ancient egypt, greece, & rome are my favorites. But I also like medieval history as well.

    And I remember American Girl! My favorites were Samantha, Kirsten, and Molly.

  2. I didn't start to really appreciate history as a subject until high school, when I had a really great teacher. They make all the difference. Now, your students have had that experience so young, they'll have a natural love of it for life. You rock! (And I agree, it's a super important subject. With the way the media is today, no on pays attention to the past. Which is sad, because then it's doomed to repeat itself...)

  3. this is awesome and you are a great teacher!!! I used to not love history and I am still at fault for not knowing some things about history but I do love teaching it now. I love how the kids get excited about it. We did a unit on immigration and had an immigration simulation where the kids had passports and had to "travel" to different inspection stations to get through ellis island. We are now on our pioneer unit and all the kids have pioneer names and families and we act like our room is a one room school house. I think it is awesome when teachers can make history exciting and find fun ways to let them experience it. and HAPPY LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!! (sorry for the incredibly long comment!!)

  4. I can't do math either. But I do LOVE history, and I find that as a first grade teacher, I don't get to teach enough of it. Since our science/health/social studies have to be alternate and are not graded, I sometimes feel as if I don't come even close to teaching what I want.

    I do try to touch on things as they come up in relation to holidays: The meaning of Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Martin Luther king Jr. The teacher next door to me is retiring and has put a bunch of old resources in the copy room for people to take. I was browsing through, when it occurred to me that I've never taught my students about the founding of our country or National Symbols like the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam. Needless to say, I took those resources and this summer I'm going to work on an "America te Beautiful" unit....and perhaps tie it in and around the election.

    Anyway, I definitely share your passion for history and it is my goal to refine the things I do teach to make them more fun and interesting and hopefully pass that along to my students!

  5. I LOVED the Dear America books growing up! I remember when they first came out, I was so wound up about them.

    Thank you for being the kind of teacher this world needs more of - the kind that is passionate and sincere and driven to give something true and lasting to the future generations!


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