I have just left
my your classroom, and have taken the last of my things. I have organized my materials to get you through the year, and hope that it helps you as you begin this journey in your teaching career. As you step into this room, I need you to know a few things about the position you will now hold, a position that is near and dear to my heart, and comes second only to the love I have for my family.
I need you to know that this is not just a curriculum. It is not just a few chapters in a World Literature book and some random units thrown in after. This curriculum is my baby too in a way. It was born of a need, not only in this district but many, for some understanding of those whom are different from us, and what a lack of acceptance and understanding can do in this world. It will be a chance for you to affect the lives of these young people and mold them into the citizens of tomorrow. Teach them the culture behind the confusing and ancient words. Dig deep for the lessons about humanity, not just about the Mesopotamians or ancient Indians. Show them, and allow them to show you, how these values still hold dear to us as humans today. Break down the walls and allow the people behind the “strange” ways to prevail. Learn and explore with them, for there is a vast world and much we do not know and understand.
Dance with them, eat with them, explore the cultures with them. Make it interesting and relevant for them.
Show them that they can learn to understand grammar and use it to shape their writing in unbelievable ways. Conference with them, give them feedback and congratulate them on each of their steps of growth.
Do not give up on them.
Keep at it when all seems futile and your words and actions are seemingly not getting through- do not give up. Many of these students have people give up on them far too easily and too often. Don’t you do it too. Hold them accountable. Set high standards, and then help them to reach them. Their minds and hearts are still young and moldable no matter from what background they come, and what their experiences with education are so far.
Many of them will need to learn the hard way. Let them. Always be there along the way for it, but for some, that is what has to happen. The move from junior high to high school, where your record and grades begin to count for adulthood, is huge. It is an adjustment. Be firm with them. Set your rules and expectations and then hold them. Follow through with repercussions when they are not met.
Love what you do. Learn to love the curriculum and the beauty of it. If you can lead these kids through epics and excerpts from ancient texts, then they can make it through anything the Keystone or other standardized test has to throw at them. Take their hands, dig in, and lead the way. Be honest with them. As your first time through this curriculum yourself, you may feel like a wobbly toddler at times, but if you genuinely buy into the purpose of the struggle, they will too.
The whole point of my year is this. To read and learn and understand about how cultures that are seemingly ancient and far removed from this world, are actually not. Understand the similarities and differences between the major belief systems of this world, the basic messages and tenets, and who the people were that upheld them. Then see, through the study of the Holocaust the horrors that occur in this world when we let “differences” divide us. How time and time again, in the Genocide research project that follows, we as humans have committed these atrocities against one another… and we still have so much to learn.
You’re new. Do not let that make you vulnerable to attack yourself. This curriculum is board approved and has been taught for the last five years. You are not teaching anyone what to believe. You are traveling the world of ancient literature and exploring the important ideas from that literature, of which many still bear importance in today’s world. History and literature and a study of culture go hand in hand in hand. You are improving the ability of the students to make meaning from what they read. You are giving them critical skills in analysis, synthesis and comprehension. You are showing them the world through the study of ancient texts.
is was my baby, and now it is yours too. I would be foolish to think that as I walk away that nothing will change in my absence. I have to let go, and that is really hard for me to do, but I wanted you to know how much I care about what I have done in this school, with these students, for the last six years of my life. My experience here has been life changing for so many reasons, and I hope that it can be for you as well. Embrace the I Remember project and committee, get involved, and keep it going. Rely on the students and faculty whom have been involved over the last several years; they know what to do.
And most importantly- believe.
Believe in yourself, believe in what you teach, believe in your students and their ability to grow, and believe in the greater purpose that is a life of teaching. Your role grows with each passing year, and it can all become very overwhelming. But know that, in the end, you will make a difference, and there will come a day when it is hard for you to discern where the job ends and you begin.