Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Teaching Memories

My 2nd year of teaching:

I was assigned to 8th grade US History. I spent the summer previewing the district's curriculum. Apparently there were no Native Americans in the US - ever. No, wait, found them in the 3rd grade curriculum. They were the people who wore feathers and liked Thanksgiving - phew - they did exist! I decided to teach about these mysterious Native Americans with no curriculum to fall back on. Mind you, I was still very novice at the teaching profession:

2nd week of the year, My history department chair walked into my room, and in front of my 7th period class said, "I just asked one of your students what you're studying. I can't believe you haven't started Colonial America yet. You are wasting their time and damaging their education."

If you're wondering, she is now the principal of a school.

My 3rd year of teaching:

I was told my 7th grade curriculum was to include Africa, Oceania, Asia, mapping skills, current events, and World Religions.

Well - to be short - that's a lot of skills to cover in one year. Beyond skills, that was a lot of content to address in one year. I instantly wondered - could I respectfully and meaningfully teach about so many continents in one year? For a moment, I pondered trying to approach this curriculum one country at a time. Never mind - that would mean teaching about 114 countries and 15 dependencies. Considering that most school years in Colorado are just shy of 175 teaching days, that was clearly not going to work.

To boot, my students were 12 years old and over 80% of them were in the midst of learning English. (Small rant here, I started teaching thinking nothing of the title ESL - English as a Second Language - until I realized that for many of my students, it was a 3rd, 4th, or even 5th language.)

Ultimately, I wondered if they would end up learning anything when so many snowballs of information were being lodged at their 12 year old heads. So, I looked into the history curriculum for the district. As I suspected, this was the only time Africa, Oceania, and Asia were on the curriculum. They would have world history in 10th grade, so they would likely cover Asia again, but oftentimes "world" history ignores Africa.

So - I started at square one with each region. Here's a glimpse into how that went -

Day One of Asia Unit: Pretest - "Do the words "Asian" and "Chinese" mean the same thing? Overwhelming answer: "Yes"

Day One of Africa Unit: Pretest Results - My students were convinced that not a single person in Africa had ever seen a car. They believed there were no buildings taller than 3 stories. They believed only the wealthy had clothes.

Need I go on?

So, now I had to redefine what progress would look like. And, I can proudly say that we made some. Still, I can understand that map at the top.

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