Posted March 16, 2017
The Teacher That Sparked My Love of History
Have you ever seen a TV show or movie that shows a teacher throwing a textbook into the trash on the first day of class? That never happens in real life, right?
On the first day of my sophomore year of high school, I sat in the back of a classroom as our teacher walked in. This teacher, who also taught my mom, aunts and uncle, stood at the front of the class holding up our textbook. He asked us where we thought we would best learn history. Typical of a group of 15-year-olds, we stared blankly at him. He then took the book and tossed it into the trashcan with a loud thud. We weren’t going to learn history from a textbook. No, we were going to learn history through objects and stories. We would learn by seeing and touching and experiencing. Sure, there would be dates and names we’d have to learn, too, but it would be through objects and stories. My classmates and I just sat there, confused as to whether this was a joke or not. It was not. That was my first day with Mr. Smith.
History gets kind of a bad rap. It’s a lot of dates. It’s a lot of wars. It’s a lot of names of people who don’t seem relevant to contemporary life. This teacher, who just recently retired after teaching for more than 50 years, made history fun. Full disclosure: I did like history to begin with. I was in the minority, though. Most of my classmates didn’t like history for all of the reasons I mentioned above. Mr. Smith taught history in a way that helped to connect it to our lives. He brought in an army helmet from World War II with a bullet hole in it. Instead of talking about the battle, he talked about the soldier. What if that had been our father or brother? His classroom was called “the museum” because he had so many different objects in it. It was through these objects that he taught us names and dates and events.
One of the projects we had to do each semester was either a paper or some kind of project related to an area of history of our choosing. We were allowed to zero in on things we found fascinating. This was right after that attacks at the World Trade Center on September 11, so I did my project on political cartoons from around the world and how different countries reacted to the tragedy. A friend of mine did her project on All-American Girls Professional Baseball League made famous in the movie “A League of Their Own.” We were able to let our curiosity guide us to find history that we connected with us, to find history that spoke to us. It was amazing.
And it all started with a textbook in a trashcan.