As a teacher, you have aspirations, values, and ideas. You try to infuse your teaching with these things, but I sometimes wonder, Do they see it? Are they getting it? Not just the content. Truth is I care about other things much more than that. I want them to love learning. I want them to be curious and to care. I want them to trust their voices and to be good listeners.
Occasionally, a teacher has the opportunity to see her hopes realized. Today was that kind of day.
This afternoon, four students from my US History blended learning class loaded into a school van and headed to Raleigh to present at the NCAIS Innovate conference. I offered the students no guidance other than to suggest that they should explain the basics of the classes and discuss some of the work we’d done in the class. I also offered to put together some slides once they’d chosen what they would talk about. As we were walking into the conference this afternoon, I realized that I had little more than a general sense of what they would say.
So when they started speaking, I was blown away. Throughout the hour of presentation and question and answer the students thoughtfully articulated the goal and experience of the class. I kept thinking to myself, I had hoped, but I had no idea. One of the things that was most gratifying was that the students spoke honestly, willing to name both the good and the challenges of the class. I also heard them speaking truth to power (albeit the benevolent, well-meaning power) by saying things like “Just because we’re students doesn’t mean we can’t develop an educated opinion of what we’re studying…” and “That’s not usually the way history teachers run their classes,” with the hastily added, “Sorry if there are any history teachers in the room.”
One of the students began her section of the presentation by saying, “So I’m not going to lie, history’s not my thing…” She went on to tell how the class had changed her view of history, one assignment leaving her so excited that she read her paper aloud to both her parents. Another said, “I don’t think I hate history, just the way we’ve always learned it…”
Matt Scully (one of my teaching heroes) asked the students if a different way of viewing class changed the way students viewed the world. I thought it was a great question, but I expected that the answer would be no. I mean it’s a class, right? I was just hoping it helped them feel more engaged in history and learning. Instead, each of the students offered some way that the class had affected the way she viewed or read the world.
While I’ve loved teaching this class, there have also been so many moments where I’ve felt doubtful about what we were accomplishing (or not) because so much of it is so new, with so many variables. Yet more reason that today I felt overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.