The second teaching job I had was one in which I was asked to a great deal of juggling. I taught English, Basic Skills, United States History and World Geography all within the span of two years. While it was crazy planning for all of the classes, one of the greatest experiences in how to manage and motivate a teaching staff occurred for me during that time.
Our curriculum was always being studied and dissected in the district, which some viewed as a tiresome process, but I always looked at it as exciting; it was current and active. Every year, especially in World Geography, we added a new facet to study because of the changing nature of the world, its borders, and the inhabitants therein. To that end, as a second year teacher, our building principal asked me to design a unit of study with him.
Maybe I was too young to realize it, but my experience in education since then has shown me that the principal of the building spending two weeks in my classroom for a portion of the day working with me and my students was unprecedented and definitely not the norm. Also, in that same vein, it saddens me that it is not.
What we created was a unit of study based upon the last large-scale Burmese uprising for Democracy in 1988 led by Aung San Suu Kyi. For three weeks, we took our students through a comparative study of what occurred in Burma and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We compared it with other democratic struggles in the past twenty years, and compared it to the struggle that the U.S. went through during the formation of our Constitution.
Hearing, as I did of yesterday’s call for blogging about the issue in Burma, it instantly reminded me of that unit I planned, and how I Roger Taylor-ed the heck out of it: video from Witness, behind the scenes footage from John Pilger of the BBC, biographies, and a culminating event that featured students from the United States Campaign for Burma in a small group session with our students.
When I hear about the work that Clay is doing, or others around the world who are creating authentic lessons with real-world implications, I get a little nostalgic for the classroom. The ideal situation would involve doing a little bit of both.