Being a teacher is one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever done, often with little reward by way of salary or appreciation from anyone. But, every once and a while, a lesson that is taught seems to go beyond the realm of the classroom to where you know it will stay with the students for a lifetime. These lessons are rare, as even when you think a lesson sticks, students cannot recall the information a few months later, however, usually when these lessons involve personal experiences, they tend to last forever.
As a teacher and traveler, I try to always share the places I’ve been with my students. It isn’t always easy as a language arts teacher, so I try to make a connection anyway I can. Last year, while reading Three Cups of Tea, I made up a bulletin board filled with pictures from the village I visited in Fiji. While it was not entirely similar to the village visited by Greg Mortenson, it was great for my students to see how other people in the world lived – without running water and electricity. When I model stories for my students to write, I often use examples from when I was traveling, like banana boating in Fiji, getting lost in Bangkok, or when an entire chicken was brought to me for dinner in Ho Chi Minh City, head and feet included. The students tend to like stories that stray from the norm, and what I’ve experienced on my travels certainly does.
But, one of the best lessons I’ve taught happened just last week. John, the 8th grade social studies teacher, asked me to teach a lesson about Vietnam, since he was teaching the students about the war. The students had many questions and were curious to discover what I learned while traveling there and wanted to know what the country was like today.
I decided to put together a video of my pictures, mostly from the War Remnant Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels, though I also included pictures to show them what Vietnam looked like today. Afterwards, I passed around the currency I had left and answered their many questions. It was great to teach about a place I am so passionate about, and it was wonderful that the students were all interested by what I had to share with them. But, what made it a truly memorable lesson was that I had been there and experienced the country for myself. From my experiences, I was able to give the students an entirely new perspective on the world and the country of Vietnam. And, to be honest, that’s exactly what teaching is supposed to be about.