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Melani Lippard: Thoughts on the first month of school

On this rainy Saturday morning, I finally am taking time to reflect on the first six weeks of the school year.  I teach American history at West Rowan High School.  Since the beginning of the year, we have all hit the ground running, students and teachers alike.  The increased emphasis on Collaboration, Connectivity, Relevance and Personalization that Rowan Salisbury Schools is pushing this year has encouraged teachers to revamp their old lesson plans with new zest and zeal for student success.  All these changes leave little time for leisure in the life of a teacher.
I’ve had so much fun with my students this semester and I’m learning a lot from them. In fact, there are some days I feel that I’ve learned more than they have.  I really have the best kids in the world, but if I had to point out my favorite moments in class so far this year, it wouldn’t be when they were running breathless around the school in a game simulating imperialism, or milling around the room talking in funny accents and complaining because I wouldn’t let them sit down until they were Americans during our immigration simulation of Ellis Island. And, of course, it wouldn’t occur during the lessons that I spend hours preparing.
The best times in my class have been the group discussions that seem to take wild hairpin turns.  We’ve covered a whole range of topics, from discrimination and segregation to mental illness and immigration;  from the turn of the century to today.  I think these conversations are where my students are learning– not about who Jacob Riis was or whatever it was that Jane Addams did–  but in the examining of social problems that existed back then and connecting them to today and what some of these students are facing everyday.
My single favorite moment from this year came when we were discussing discrimination and “Separate but Equal” (“Which came from what court case, class?!” “Plessy v. Ferguson!”) and how things were rarely equal, but always separate. At one point during the discussion, a girl who had said barely three words in class discussions bursts out “BUT THAT’S NOT RIGHT!” It took the entire class about ten seconds for the shock to wear off, but in those moments, she changed the focus of the conversation from history to people. She forced the class to look the situation straight in the eye, rather than a hundred years removed.
History, for the most part, is about people: People who lived, and died, and left their mark on the world. There are those who are remembered for changing the world with grand sweeping changes, such as Franklin Roosevelt, who healed a country severely wounded by a Great Depression and then led the nation through a world war.  And then there are those like Rosa Parks, who quietly refused to move in the face of established segregation and became know as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.
Teaching is not about my test scores.  It’s not about the hours I spend prepping for class or learning to work a new learning management system.  Teaching isn’t even about history, or math, or science, when we get right down to it. Teaching, for me, is about my students: Students who will become people who will leave their mark on the world.  Maybe they won’t be mentioned in a text book, but they’ve already left their mark on me.

 

Melani Lippard teaches at West Rowan High School.

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