Day 107: Will, Middle School History Teacher

[ By on March 08, 2013 ]

Great questions make great classes. That’s the lesson I learned yet again today in my eighth month teaching at Riverdale.

My seventh grade American history class and I were working our way through excerpts from Lincoln’s House Divided Speech, talking through the idea that America was bound to come to blows over the issue of slavery. A student in the back row raised her hand. “Why did the North and South go to war when they did, instead of earlier or later?”

It was a great question. Challenging, relevant, and requiring all of their nascent analytical skills. The kind of question that we teachers labor over for hours, emerging from the depths of the curriculum mines to label essential. But when a great question simply emerges from the conversation, you just release it into the room and watch what happens.

In the discussion that followed, students came up with lots of great answers: the growing geographical division of the institution of slavery, the repeated arguments over the status of new territories, the failure of previous leadership to tackle the problem, even the fading unity from national wars against Britain and Mexico.

Answering middle schooler’s questions about history can be like drinking from a fire hose. As never before in their lives they have the ability to question why the world is one way and not another, and to demand from the adults in their lives real answers.

When I can no longer answer them, I know I’ve done my job.

Will teaches history in Room 236 where, according to his sixth graders, he probably sleeps at night. 

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