Monday, June 30, 2014

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. - Henry James

When I was a classroom teacher, I would sometimes take a few minutes away from a lesson if I felt that something in the media or on social media or a school situation was presenting a “teachable moment” that needed to be addressed immediately in order to make the biggest impact on the students.  I was thinking about some of those moments, and one came to mind that I would like to share.

First, I must tell you that I taught Introduction to Theater (grades 9 and 10), Essential English II (grade 10, for less-than-average achievers who needed a bit of extra help), and Academic English II (for the college-bound student.) Although the curriculum was broad and heavy, I have always believed that life lessons were just as important, perhaps more important, than grammar and literature.

When mainstreaming of students was introduced, I suddenly had a new hat to wear in the classroom – “Queen of Special Education”, as the guidance people would place all the “specials” on my roster, knowing that I would include them, love them, and make sure they were assimilated into the social side of the classroom.  I was privileged to have many students with special needs, and I always looked at them in a different way from how others saw them.  Instead of looking for and focusing on their disabilities, instead I searched for their abilities.  And, of course, I always found many hidden abilities and talents in each student!  It is very unfortunate that our society does not react to those with special needs in a positive manner; instead, choosing only to see the disability.   You all know that, very often, people are judged on how they look, or how they act, or by what they say.  This is especially true for those on the autism spectrum.

When Susan Boyle became a sensation on “Britain’s Got Talent”, I saw the clip on Youtube, and I knew that it would make a fabulous mini-life-lesson.  I introduced the clip by talking about how some people judge others.  Students gave some great examples, about clothes and hair and cliques, and everyone could identify with that feeling of both being judged and judging others (some heads were hanging during this discussion.)  I told them I wanted to show them a short clip of a television show that might make them think about judging others.  (Although it had not been disclosed at that time, I had the feeling the very first time I saw the clip, that Susan Boyle was on the Asperger’s-Autism spectrum.  Several years later, she would admit this.) I turned the white board and computer on and I told them to watch the body language of the judges and the audience, including the eye rolling.  I said we would discuss it after they saw the clip. At that point, they viewed Susan Boyle’s song “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miz.  Their eyes stayed on the screen. (If you have not seen it, here is the link:

When the clip was finished, every hand in the room went up, all voicing the opinion of how “mean” the judges and the audience  were to Susan.  I reminded them of what we had just discussed before seeing her performance, and the point was made.  They recognized that they, too, had sometimes made errors in judgment when just looking at a person on the outside, and that being judgmental was both hurtful and disrespectful.  I mentioned that some students who were “different” had to deal with these kinds of judgments every day.  We all agreed that being kind was the best policy.

And so, a 20 minute lesson involving a 47 year old woman who was not famous turned into a life lesson.  Because of a solid anticipatory set in which every student was involved, a short visual clip (most of my students were visual learners), and an honest post-viewing discussion, they learned a lesson about judging others on their own.  I only had to guide them through and to the learning.

Teachers, you never know when a great idea will present itself.  Use your imagination and give your students a mini-lesson about life.  After all, I may have been teaching English and Theater, but more importantly, I was teaching human beings.  And I wanted them to be kind.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

No comments:

Post a Comment