One of the defining moments of this exhibit day was when I led this couple to the Eugenics display. One of my students started to explain the program, and she mentioned a particular doctor’s name who was involved with the experiments. The Jewish woman said, “ahhh, that is the doctor who experimented on my sister for 8 months.” Shock, and silence, from everyone. She then proceeded to tell us the story and teach all of us. All of a sudden the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the eugenics experiments, became very real.
Many teachers who attempt this type of thing might do it once, but with all the difficulties never try it again. I can see why that would be so. But I will teach every unit I can this way. It’s only in doing it the first time that you learn what you need to change about your teaching role. And it’s only by pushing through the hard “first time” that your students learn how to deal with difficulties. The strength and growth that I’ve seen in my students this past month is truly amazing.
This is the sixth time I’ve taught a unit on the Holocaust. In the past, my students learned most of the information via lecture, notes and videos. Because I was responsible for distilling the information, I learned much more than they did. This semester they’re doing it all themselves.
This process involved a lot more silence and waiting on my part than I would have thought. Inquiry learning is not a familiar experience for them. Instead, by grade 10, my students have learned that if they wait long enough, they will be rescued. Not anymore.
Changing to a student-centered, skill-based, technology embedded classroom is scary business. I think all teachers must have times when they’re faced with the decision to continue on the safe road that they know, or radically depart on a way that they believe to be better, but the specific route and outcomes are unknown. In all honesty, sometimes I’ve chosen the former, and sometimes the latter. For the last five months, I’ve consistently chosen the latter, and they have been the most challenging and fulfilling five months of my career.