In honor of the heroes and victims of September 11, 2001 I chose to play several person histories collected by a great organization, StoryCorps. StoryCorps collects histories and memories from everyday people. It's Howard Zinn put into practice. A peoples' history of the United States. StoryCorps has several pages of personal remembrances linked to 9/11/01. These stories do not have political affiliations, they do not speak of conspiracies, they don't question reactions; what they do is show how history effects people. I only shared a few stories, because they are very emotional. While I am concerned about my students reactions and my ability to put these stories into context- truth is I didn't want to cry in front of my students (yet).
As a parent, teacher, brother of a fireman, son of two great parents, these stories and the whole week took a very big emotional toll on me. I sat at home listening to story after story deciding which ones would help students see how history can be meaningful and personal. I cried and contemplated a lot of aspects of my life over the last several days. I am fortunate enough to be given the chance (every day) to help change lives. The firefighters, Passengers of Flight 93, First Responder, and countless average (but not really average) people were given the opportunity to save lives. Its overwhelming, confusing and important.
I was amazed at the response of students. One of my students brought in a video for me to watch. Her great-grandmother lived to be 100 years old. When she was in her early 90s, great-grandma was interviewed by a reporter. Although she was in her 90s, this wonderful women recounted her entire life. She started by talking about being a young girl in Germany, coming to this country, meeting her true-love, etc. She still speaks German fluently and recalled countless details from her time on earth. They say that our memory signifies what is really important to us, it often goes beyond social norms and defines how we (personally) view the world. Unfortunately great-grandma passed away. Fortunately, this student has an amazing collection of memories about her great-grandmother and family. She and I talked about different elements of great-grandma's story.
The majority of my students, perhaps all, understand that I truly take a personal interest in their lives and the work they accomplish this year. For the first time in my career I feel that grades will not influence students' work in my class. Its liberating, astounding and scary. Saying we want our students to focus on learning based on passion/intrinsic rewards and not on "the dangling carrot" is much different than when it actually happens. I know have the overwhelming responsibility to stay actively interested in all of my students. That isn't easy and with my own family/life to keep up with, it should prove to be a busy/rewarding/gratifying/challenging year. I cannot wait to see what my students accomplish in class and in their lives.