Teaching History Through Ignorance
I teach history. The last time I took a history class was in high school. This hasn’t been a problem so far — I know U.S. history and I know American government like the back of my hand.
As of Wednesday, I’ve added on a world history class. Believe you-me, I was unprepared.
On a whim, I took up my third period of student teaching on a regular basis this week. Unlike the other two American government classes — seniors are so easy to work with — my third period is a world history class. With sophomores.
To make matters worse, this master teacher has a style that commands attention while ignoring side conversations, his booming voice very easily speaking over them. I don’t fault him for it. It works for him — just not for me.
These might seem like separate problems. Usually, they are.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to maintain the authoritarian facade of a liberal fascist when one isn’t familiar enough with the material to avoid cribbing off one’s notes. My classroom efficacy fades as it becomes clear to my students that because I don’t have a commanding grasp of the material, I don’t have a commanding grasp of them.
I’m in a rush to find primary source materials. I’ll have them write a soldier’s diary, an op-ed piece. I already had them draw a poster last time.
As such, I’ll only be marginally more prepared this week than I was last week. What I know about The Great War would probably fill a double-spaced page-and-a-half. That might be more than my non-teaching peers, but not nearly enough to fill up ten 55-minute periods.
And, though the armchair gods of academia would smite me down for it, I brush up on it using my resource.
The back of my mind: “There’s always reading from the textbook.”
Pride, my hubris, prevents me from sinking that low. I hope that because I avoid that time-tested-and-it-still-failed method my immediate dangers don’t include death or disfiguration. If it doesn’t, then it’s officially not my hubris.
Thankfully, I have a few ideas before I sink to the level of passing out the textbooks.
Thankfully, I do, in fact, remember most of my way around the Russian revolution, interwar Germany and the prelude to World War II, and I’m clear off through most of the Cold War — I just need to make it through this Alliance-Entente spat, and I’m mostly home free for the rest of the semester.
That which for I’m most thankful, however, is that this is a four-day week. God bless Martin Luther King, Jr’s mother for giving birth when she did.
Moral of the story? If worst comes to worst: no matter what, you always know more than your students.