After Thanksgiving Break, we had three weeks before Winter Break so I’ve been swamped. Winter Break was too relaxing to actually write. We went returned to school on January 11th. In short, I’ve been busy with a mix of relaxing and working like a mad woman.
This week, right after having a three-day weekend to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., I had to mentally prepare for the inauguration on Friday. This week involved careful planning. In my little middle school setting, I had to be careful not to be dismissive of their feelings and concerns about the new transition in the White House. Even though I am personally a bit terrified about what to expect for the next four years, I am the adult. I have to be strong for my little babies. This week was a teachable moment.
This week, we went over how point of view can change an author’s intention. We read and compared “The Three Little Pigs” and “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.” Once they conquered that, we moved onto bigger and more important matters: how Martin Luther King, Jr. was perceived, while he was alive. I started off the class by asking them to draw a bubble map about everything they knew about MLK, Jr. Many knew that he was a civil rights leader, he was a reverend, he gave the “I have a dream” speech, he marched on Washington, and his birthday is now a holiday.
Then we got into the thick of things. I had them read and annotate Morgan Whitaker’s MSNBC 2013 news article, “Back in the day: What critics said about King’s speech in 1963.” We analyzed the quotes of Senator Russell Long, Senator Strom Thurmond, then-Senate candidate Rand Paul, and even President Ronald Reagan about MLK, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. I asked students how their comments may have influenced people who looked up to them, and how those comments may have affected Dr. King and other civil rights activists in their everyday life. This is one of the few times that my students were speechless.
In order to add value to the lesson and really drive home my point, I showed them images of civil rights leaders being attacked by the water hose of the Birmingham Fire Department (1963), the K-9 units of the police department (1964), the tear gas of the SWAT team in Ferguson (2015), and an unarmed man holding his hands up facing off in front of the military-style guns of the police (2015), etc. [All images can be found at the bottom of this post.] Finally, I showed them this:
One student yelled, “America was NEVER great, Miss B!!” I agreed, but I reassured the class that they, being the up and coming generation, can make it great on the individual level. They have to be empathetic, caring, educated citizens in their school, community, and any other place where they are. Let their light shine, no matter where they are.
I ended the class by telling them how much I loved them and believed in them.
These moments make being a teacher well worth it. I was able to not only have them remember the values that MLK, Jr. carried with him, but also have them make valuable connections to today and tell them that people’s perceptions of them shouldn’t change who they are and what they stand for.