South Africa

Lions, Elephants, and 7th Graders…Oh My!

I didn’t realize how much a lion and an elephant had in common with a 7th grader until this week. You are probably wondering how I encountered all of the above mentioned this week. Well it is understandable why I would encounter a lion and an elephant…I’m in Africa for one thing, but why would a person who is receiving a degree in Early Childhood Education and being certified to teach only grades K-5 be working with 7th graders?? Well it all started when one of the grade 7 teachers at my school approached me asking if I could help him prepare for lessons on the American Revolution and the United States Constitution. Now of course being born of course means I should be well versed in these topics. Thankfully I did remember my social studies lessons on these topics, so I was willing to share my knowledge with him. I was unaware that agreeing to help him prepare for these lessons would turn into me covering all of his grade 7 social studies lessons this past week. So here I am stuck teaching social studies lessons on the American Revolution and US Constitution to the 7th graders who have never really had any formal lessons on any part of American history! Sounds fun, right?!

So I had one week (four days to be exact) to teach a huge part of American History to students who had no background knowledge of that history. This was a huge task for even the most seasoned of teachers. So first comparison explanation: 7th graders are like elephants because like elephants they are cute and harmless to think about but they are a lot bigger in real life!

Boy were they a lot bigger! Talk about intimidating and scary. I struggled so much trying to figure out the best way to teach so much history in such a short amount of time and now I had to do it in front of someone who could eat me alive! (second comparison explanation: 7th graders are like lions because they can and will eat you alive!) Despite my fear and reservations I was determined to not be beat by these children! They were just that, children! I was the adult and the teacher, so I could not allow them to intimidate me and send me running back to America with my tail between my legs! So I did lots of research and studying to refresh my memory, and nailed down the most important information to present to my students. I made sure to include a lot of group work and activities to get them to think about the material more. I had visuals, videos, and maps planned for them. I was armed and ready! I would not be beaten!

First day of class I am greeted by one simple question: Why do we have to learn about this stuff since we are not even Americans?

Oh goodness! My heart dropped. What and how was I to respond to this question. It was a legitimate question. I don’t remember learning much about South African history while in grade school, so why was it important that these kids learn about American History? Is America more important that the world must be well versed in it’s background?

The only way I knew how to respond was with this: “It is important to learn about the history of other countries other than your own. Just because you aren’t American doesn’t mean you can’t learn something about America. Even American children aren’t born knowing everything about their country so they must go to school and learn too.”

With that answer I believe I just established who is the teacher and who is the student.

The rest of my week went rather well. My 7th graders struggled a bit but as a teacher it is my job to provide them with the necessary tools to succeed. My goal for the week was not to make them memorize dates and people, but to have a better understanding how a group of people identified a power that was not just and fought for their rights and received them. Friday I ended my series of lessons with the Bill of Rights. For this lesson, I wanted my students to really feel how it would be to have some of the rights listed in the Bill of Rights to be taken away. So from the moment they walked in the classroom I took those rights away without their permission or knowledge. I treated them based on their race and gender how they would have been treated in America at the time that these rights were being decided. Throughout the lesson they received a glimpse of the pain, frustration, and humiliation people felt when they did not have these basic rights.

I think we all learned some lessons this week. The 7th graders learned a little bit about American History, and I had another opportunity to face my fears head on. Whether I am jumping off a bridge or teaching grade 7 I am being adventurous. My classroom extends past the four walls of the school house, but into the world. I am a World-Class Teacher, so whatever I do in life affects me as a person and a teacher. Those two identities cannot be separated. As I grow as a person, I grow as a teacher, so one week I am conquering the highest bungee jump bridge in the world and the next teaching 7th graders. What will be my next adventure…I don’t know, but all I can say is BRING IT ON!

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