Giving Students Identity

Just recently, I met my biological father's daughter - my half-sister.  I am 46 years old, yet my lack of identity still haunts me to this day.  I desperately want to know my heritage, how I came about, and what expectations were set for me once I was a realization in the minds of those who created me.  I want to know who I am or who I was supposed to be, based on my own unique genetics.  Unfortunately for me, this meeting only muddied waters.  My sister called to tell me she spoke with "our" dad afterwards, and he would like (another) DNA test to prove that I am NOT his daughter, stating the one done in the 1970s was unreliable.  I cried.

Even though I am a fully grown, middle-aged woman with multiple degrees, a successful career, and a life I would never give up, this specific request by the man I have never known, yet never questioned, sent me into a depth of anguish indescribable.  I felt, once again, alone.

Without identity.

Giving students identity and helping them find self-worth in the secondary classroom.

What does this have to do with teaching?  I was rare.  In 1974, I was the only kindergartner in my class from a "broken" home.  Not only were my parents divorced, but neither held my custody.  I was being raised by my grandparents, and I was reminded often of my uniqueness at every school event frequented by loving, doting parents of all my classmates.

Please understand, my grandparents were incredible.  They loved me, spoiled me, and cared for me beyond explanation.  They created family for me, and as a young child, I felt loved, important, and even worthy.  However, as age came, and the reality of my difference set in, I began to question myself.

Why was I here?  
Was I meant to be here?
What was my role in others' lives?
Who was I?

At age 8, my mother regained custody of me, and many of my questions were partially answered.  Unfortunately, they were not answered in a positive way.  What I learned of my mother was not what I'd hoped for myself, and I would forever be haunted by her words and actions.  Even my own adult relationships and the parenting of my own daughter has been a direct reaction to my experiences with my own mother - usually the complete opposite with intent.  I did not abuse my daughter.  I did not tell her things she was too young to hear.  I did not shirk my responsibilities.  I loved my child.

Our students today are NOT the minority anymore.  Sadly, it is normal to be from a divorced home.  It is even more frequent to experience abuse and neglect.  With that realization, even more of our students are growing up with a true identity crisis.  They do not know who they are, and as a result, they do not know who they should be.

How can you, their teacher, make a difference?

My bright idea on this is simple:

Give them an identity.  

Fortunately for me, my Grandmother and many teachers helped me to find my strengths and improve my weaknesses.  They parented me when my parents were missing.  And many secondary teachers, without ever stating the obvious recognition of abuse in my home, helped to nurture me in ways that fueled goals and dreams for my life that I may not have formed otherwise.

Talk to your students.  Not about what you see or hear.  Not about the bruise or the streaming tears.

Talk about the possibilities.  The opportunities.  The world that is out there that they CAN be a part of if THEY take the initiative to go that direction.  Encourage them to depend on their own will, and to demand others be worthy of their trust and admiration.  Set high expectations for them, and demand that they meet them.

Do NOT pity them.  Do not appear sad or disheartened by their situation.  Instead, create for them the identity (in your eyes) that is so much better than the one they have been born into.  Have hope that they will be successful.  And through your hope, allow them to become...

Giving students identity and helping them find self-worth in the middle and high school classroom can be the teacher's most important job. Read to learn how to make this important different in your classes.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Teaching About Terrorism in the Secondary Classroom

As acts of terror continue to permeate our news, teachers are faced with the reality that we must address the issues in our secondary classrooms.  Still, the many controversies, the chaos, and the complex fears create great challenges in developing that perfect lesson for our students.

How to teach sensitively about terrorism and addressing the important current issues in the secondary classroom.

Ideally, teachers could turn to ready-made resources to teach about the most recent acts of terrorism, but in my experience, that is NOT what is best for our students.  Each classroom is unique in its personality and in the individual fears, anxieties, and needs of our students, calling for special attention to such personal matters.

That said, we must develop the lessons we know will help our students wrap their heads around the modern concerns and those that can help them identify paths to help remedy the problems of our world in the future.  Here are a few suggestions to help you plan for this very important lesson:
  • Be sure to address the many perspectives on the events involved.  This is most important, and is the element that seems to be left out in many news reports that sensationalize horrific events over reporting the facts.  Please teach without prejudice and allow your students to see the world as it is, and as it has always been:
    • Terrorism is NOT related to religion.  It is an act of extremism and cannot be generalized to include whole groups.  The KKK claim they are Christian, but not all Christians are KKK.  The same is true of those who practice other faiths and the extremist groups who claim those identities.  It is important to remember that extremists and radicals are skilled at warping their chosen religious texts to meet their personal goals and to excuse their horrendous acts.
    • We (speaking in political/national terms) are all guilty of terrorism.  The U.S. has a long history of eliminating or restricting undesirables with injustices such as slavery or our movements to remove and rid our lands of Native American populations.  Historically, most nations or political groups have excluded outsiders and have persecuted chosen populations at one time or another.
    • What we see and "know" is based on where we are and our individual side on each event.  We are very limited in our knowledge of other cultures and of personal feelings related to larger, more impersonal events.  When sitting outside looking in, we cannot see the writing on the walls seen by those inside looking out.  More importantly, we cannot feel the way those personally involved feel, and therefore, cannot comprehend their reactions to such events. 
  • Allow it to be personal.  Students fear terrorism, and rightfully so.  As a child of the Cold War, I was terrified that the president would push that big red button in his office, and the nuclear battle would begin, ending life as we all knew it.  Those same fears are present today.  Let your students voice them, treat them with respect, and be human enough to share your own anxieties.  Then take it a step further.
  • Discuss the future.  Allow your students to brainstorm how they can be instrumental in making the future a different world than what we live in now.  Don't minimize suggestions and value all ideas, emphasizing the importance of every act, large and small.
  • Reinforce the positive and the reality.  The reality is simple - we do live in a world filled with acts of terror, both domestic and international.  HOWEVER... The media makes these acts of terror seem larger and more widespread than they are in relation to the population of our world.  The likelihood of terrorism on our own personal doorstep is slim.  On the other hand, the randomness of (domestic) terror demands a call to action for today's youth to bring the change needed to prevent such in the future.
  • Make comparisons to other historic events.  Watching the Syrian refugees cross borders sadly reminds me of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany or of Japanese being relocated to Internment Camps.  They have given up everything except the things they carry to escape violence and hatred of those living around them.  How did those historic events end?  How could these modern ones evolve?
Teaching about Terrorism is not a choice for us anymore.  It is more relevant to our students' lives now than it has ever been in the past.  More importantly, it is our students who may have a chance at bringing the change needed to shift our world toward a climate of empathy, understanding and acceptance rather than the climate of hatred, anger and exclusion that it is today.

*After your class lessons on current events. make those comparisons to the past with lessons that provide multiple perspectives and always encourage the application of empathy over anger.  For ready made lessons on those historic events, take a look at my full Holocaust Unit or my 9/11 Response Group Activity. 

Learn how to teach students sensitively about terrorism and addressing the important current issues in the middle or high school classroom.

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

Understanding Our World to Create A Global Classroom

American students are often taught the Geography of the world, American History, and even World History from a bubble perspective.  We see things through very American eyes with limited understanding of cultural differences and their impact on the world events that eventually affect us all.  Teaching students about these cultural differences, and how to live in a world where we can appreciate difference is a task we must take on in the Social Studies classroom.  We must work toward Creating a Global Classroom.

How to create a global understanding in your secondary Social Studies classroom.

Traveling Europe this summer taught me so much about my own limits in understanding of cultural differences.  I experienced so many new things by being willing to step outside of my own American shell, and I was able to better understand why some Europeans act or react as they do.  More importantly, I was able to see their perspective on Americans.  While we see ourselves as the most advanced, literate, and knowledgeable in the world, others see us quite differently, and that can lead to so many problems for us in the ever-changing global world.

That brings me back to the Social Studies classroom and how we, as Social Studies teachers, can change our students' limited knowledge on the world and what it will be as we move toward the future.
  • Always teach multiple perspectives.  While these lessons may seem time-wasting to some, it is vitally important that students understand there are ALWAYS multiple perspectives for every event.  
  • Encourage students to ATTEMPT to walk in others' shoes.  Stress that this task can never truly be done, but the challenge is the lesson.
  • Allow students to investigate the GOOD and the BAD in our world. Play the devil's advocate in situations, and permit your students the freedom to express their anger and frustration with what they see as wrong in the world.
  • Introduce world news, POSITIVE and NEGATIVE, to students on a regular basis.  Use reliable sources to examine the news in ways that will help students see the impact of the events on local and international levels.
  • Teach EMPATHY.  Our students will never know the poverty of those in other parts of the world.  We can't expect them to understand what it is like to live without clean water or to walk without shoes through the desert, but we can teach them to feel for others who must live in those conditions.  Then it will be easier for them to UNDERSTAND why those others act the ways they do in major world events.
Teaching Social Studies is not about teaching facts and figures.  It's about helping our students become better world citizens.  Start doing that today, because tomorrow is coming very soon!

How to create a global understanding in your secondary Social Studies classroom.

Thank you so much to Pam from Desktop Learning Adventures and Darlene Anne from ELA Buffet for organizing these wonderful Secondary Smorgasbord topics and posts!  Be sure to read all of the others this month to explore more on Creating a Global Classroom! 
Learn how to create a global understanding for your students in your middle or high school Social Studies classroom.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Teaching Controversy in the Secondary Classroom

Throughout history, teachers have faced controversial topics in their classrooms.  Do they teach these topics or do they adhere to convention and ignore the opportunity to open young minds?  For those of the past, asking students to consider new theories could be career ending, and sometimes dangerous.  But for teachers today, teaching students to think for themselves is expected, and controversy should be a part of every classroom experience!

Tips on teaching controversy in the secondary Social Studies classroom.
Image taken by Brian Sims in Oakland 99% Strike.
Here are some history lessons to consider:

What would the world be like if Socrates did not teach his students to think?

What would the world be like if Martin Luther did not teach his disciples to question?

What would the world be like if Galileo didn't teach his followers to investigate?

What would the world be like if Scopes bowed down to the power of his peers?

What would the world be like if Martin Luther King Jr. allowed the status quo to remain in effect?

What would the world be like if WE did not teach what we know?  If we just passed on the FACTS, and never asked our students to think or question or investigate?  What would our future be if we didn't support our students in standing up against peer pressure and facing off against the status quo? 

So, how do you teach controversy?  Just open the door!
  • Introduce the topics that some fear and avoid.
  • Allow open discussion, and welcome the devil's advocate into the classroom.
  • Encourage investigation and the introduction of new theories.
  • Teach respect for others and an appreciation of difference.
  • Do not ONLY teach the facts, but ask the right questions to allow students to discover their own interests and theories on the topics introduced.
Accept that your students will feel differently than you do about the events and topics you introduce.  Appreciate this fact, and remember that they are the future...

And finally, keep your fingers crossed!  Do not be naive that teaching controversy will not bring conflict and chaos.  Just be prepared to defend your lessons and to defend your obligation to prepare your students to the real world we live in today!

Here are some controversial lessons to get you started!
Who is the real hero?
What really happened?

What should have been done?
It wasn't a war?
Was it worth the costs?
Should we have...?

Tips for middle or high school teachers on teaching controversy in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Academic Vocabulary for Secondary Social Studies

Throughout the country, many students are coming into the secondary grades without any prior exposure to Social Studies content, especially the academic vocabulary needed for greater understanding of the concepts we hope to help our students master.  This academic vocabulary is vital for depth of learning in the History and Geography classroom, and can help students be successful in other areas as well.

Tips and tools for teaching academic vocabulary in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

How can you teach this academic vocabulary without taking time from the content vocabulary you need to address with each unit?  You can't!  But the reality is simple: Without the foundation being firmly set, the structure you attempt to build will only crumble in the end.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for building academic vocabulary in your classroom:
  1. Teach a term a day. Begin each class with a bellringer tied to an academic term.  Have students define the term, learn its connotations, and investigate it's relevance for your current unit.  
  2. Dedicate a day a week to vocabulary learning.  Pair students for vocabulary scavenger hunts or have students work on word walls to enhance terminology strength.
  3. Take a day a month to practice with academic vocabulary task cards or skills activities.  Set students up in small groups to review terms and apply them to current units of study.
  4. Start each unit with an Academic Vocabulary round up!  As students create their unit cover page for their Interactive Notebooks, have them add the relevant terms and their unit specific definitions.
  5. Allow students to create academic vocabulary posters for room decor.  Hang the posters around the room for reference in every unit and to help students with recall on every assessment!
Finally, practice the use of academic vocabulary every day in your teaching.  Use terminology that is BEYOND your students level to challenge them and to build their term base as they grow and learn.  Words should not be feared, they should be appreciated.  Teach your students this appreciation through your own use every day!
Tips and tools for teaching academic vocabulary in the secondary Social Studies classroom.
Start with Academic Vocabulary Graphic Organizers!  Add to any student notebook!
Visit my TpT Store for great vocabulary tools, including Graphic Organizers, Games, and More!

Practice tips and tools for teaching academic vocabulary in the secondary Social Studies classroom. #teacherhacks

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck