Teachers will tell that, after a number of years of teaching, there are a few classes which stick out from the others.
This story is about one of my superstar classes. I have a few stories about them.
But this one had everything to do about how they took an entirely average lesson plan and ran with it.
In the 2005-6 school year, our superintendent was fed up with the school budget being rejected every single year. It had mostly to do with him, as he’d rubbed most of the community the wrong way, but this wasn’t going to deter him: he planned a way to get the budget passed, come hell or high water.
I taught senior World Cultures, a look at the world outside the United States.
So imagine my surprise when in the spring of 2006, three weeks before the school budget election, the history department was handed an assignment:
Teach how school budgets were passed, and their importance to the community.
The “non-political” lesson was designed to encourage seniors to go out and vote in favor of the school budget, and overcome the negative attitudes among the community.
I was in the middle of teaching about India and South Asia, so it in no way related to my class.
“Doesn’t matter,” I was told.
There were four high schools in the district, yet ours was assigned to come up with the lesson plans and the assessment…which was a surprise, since the history department of our high school had a bit of a reputation of being…well, a bit immature.
Those stories are for another time, but my colleague tackled the assignment with a fair bit of enthusiasm.
The lesson was broken into two neatly arranged class sessions. On the third day, students would be asked to perform an interpretive dance outlining the key points of the lesson on school budgets. My colleague, an Ethan Hawke look-alike, assumed no one would take a close look at the assessment.
And for the next two weeks, no one did.
Since I’d heard no efforts from our administrators to edit the lessons, I planned on doing exactly what the lesson plan stated.
The students would earn extra credit points for performing their skits in three days, and must include five key points from the two days’ worth of notes.
Most of my classes wanted nothing to do with it.
This particular class got into groups – and strategized.
I’ve never taught first-graders, but about half the class sat on the floor around the whiteboard and took detailed notes on school budgets, then excitedly plotted their dances.
These kids were three months from graduating, but I remember sitting around the teacher as a six-year old as she read to us, and the excitement felt the same.
The day before the students were to perform, I was called into the history supervisor’s office, then later that day our principal’s office.
I was told in no uncertain terms that my students would NOT be performing dance routines.
And disciplinary actions might take place if I went ahead with it.
To the supervisor I expressed feigned disbelief, and said I was only following the instructions of the lesson plans; but in the meeting with my principal I had a bit of doubt and a nervous sweat.
Was I really going to risk my job by asking students to do something as ridiculous as this?
The next day, when the dances routines were supposed to be performed, my first two classes came and went – I returned to our previously scheduled programming about South Asia, nary a word from the students complaining about their extra credit opportunities.
Three classes to go.
As I waited for my lunch period to be over, a student teacher approached me. She was being mentored by a colleague, but requested to come see me teach. I volunteered my next class, my favorite one.
Even though we weren’t going to be performing interpretive dance, the students had shown me time and again they loved the class, and I considered it perfect for someone coming into education.
The student-teacher and I arrived early, and she settled into the back row. The bell rang, and students came in. They looked positively giddy as they sat in their dance groups.
I broke the news to them that we wouldn’t be performing the skits, and how I’d been threatened by the administration. One of the class leaders raised his hand.
“That’s bullshit, C. Stand in front of the door and don’t let anyone in.”
Half of the class cheered; the ones who were ready.
I went for it.
The first group put on a movie: they’d filmed themselves the day before. It was a telenovela, complete with a dance routine. Well done.
The second group, if I remember correctly, did a Star Wars-esque fight/dance scene, like something out of a second-rate Bollywood sci-fi film. I glanced at the student teacher, who was laughing at the performance. Well played.
The final dance? Well…it was this:
The class went nuts, the student-teacher and I laughed while tears ran down our faces.
They drew a standing ovation.
And no administrators came in.
The school budget still didn’t pass…but I did my best.
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