Category: I teach about the war my brother fought

Day One Hundred Sixty-Eight

There’s a group of young activists who have been using my classroom as their organizing HQ since Parkland; they planned the March 14 walkout, spoke at community demonstrations, met with elected officials, wrote letters to the paper, organized a voter registration drive… and, off of about ten minutes of social media organizing last night, they came in today with orange ribbons to wear and distribute for Gun Violence Awareness Day. 

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Also, at today’s meeting, the freshmen gave the graduating seniors pins decorated with the group’s logo. It was a way to thank them for building up this thing they’re leaving behind. It was a terrific gesture, and some of them definitely got a bit teary-eyed. 

A lot of those seniors are also in my APUSGOV class, so I saw them repeatedly today because- in addition to that meeting- we had not one, but two congressional candidates as guest speakers! At this point, the fact that we have candidates as guests is so well-known that other students get permission to miss their classes to join us, which is fine by me because I like a full room.

The first guest, a Democrat, came in during our actual class time, Block 1. He’s a young guy: ex-military, city attorney, very smart. He was totally frank, too, and my students- who have no time for vague, wishy-washy answers- approved of that even when they disagreed with what he was saying. As one girl put it, “He just went for it, Miss M.” And he got asked about EVERYTHING: gun control, Israel-Palestine, global warming, North Korea, legalization of marijuana, prison system reforms, infrastructure, national defense… Afterwards, I asked him about his military service, and discovered he’d been in Iraq at the same time as my older brother- and, for a few months, on the same base outside Baghdad. Wild, right? It’s a small world.

And, yes, it’s strange when you find out the thing you have in common with someone is a war.

Our other guest, a Republican, came in during Block 5, which is when most of my students have a free block, He’s also ex-military, and an ex-police officer, which was fascinating to hear him speak about. My students asked him similar questions to what they’d asked our first guest, and his answers were equally smart, but- as you’d expect- rather different. He’s a real limited government conservative, and I know I have students who don’t hear things articulated from that perspective often. So it gave them some food for thought, which is a good thing. 

Both guests told me how impressive these kids are (which is true), and how glad they were to have gotten to talk with them. Both said it made them hopeful for the future.

Me, too.

In between guest speakers, I was teaching World, which is also inspiring, especially during multi-genre. Because my room was set up for guests, and because it was pushing 90 degrees and muggy, Mrs. T and I made the brilliant decision to move our combined classes to the air conditioned computer lab at the end of the hall. I had the idea; she actually went and signed us up on the lab schedule so no other teacher could claim it. Now, the lab has computers and chairs for one class, and we had two, so there were kids with laptops sprawled on the floors, or in chairs they carried over from our rooms. It was a bit ridiculous, but it wasn’t hot, so our students were happy. 

So, all in all, today was awesome. Definitely one of my favorite days of teaching.

Day One Hundred Seventeen

While basically every other school district in New England canceled today because of the storm, mine stayed open. So I went to work and taught ninth graders about the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Boom.

We did have an early release, which was the right call since it didn’t start snowing until 11AM, and we totally rocked and rolled with the time we had. It was all me again in the Cavern of Learning because Mrs. T let me have her time, which was super helpful for me because this stuff is A LOT. Plus, it gave her time to grade recently-submitted argument essays, so it’s a double win.

I started the lesson by recapping what they’d learned in previous classes about ISIS’ origins, rise to prominence, and takeover of land. I went on a bit of a tangent about what it was like to watch on the news as the cities and towns my brother had spent time in during his deployment were destroyed. I told my students that we and our friends had frequently debated what the US should do in response- and there was a whole national debate, too- and it got heated. Then I reminded them that I’m always asking them what they think the country should do in certain situations, to which they nodded emphatically (because I seriously ask that all the time). I explained that I do it because, at some point, we all have to decide where we stand. I had to during the war and afterwards because it was my country, my family, my life… 

It’s theirs, too. That’s the point.

Anyways. After I was sure everyone had a solid understanding of our past lessons, I had them find out what happened during last year’s fight to retake land from ISIS. They watched a video about the Mosul offensive, read about the Raqqa offensive, discussed the whole situation with me. Aaaand once they’d done that I dropped this on them: “Hey, if ISIS was largely defeated months ago, why’s the UN saying the war in Syria is worse now than ever?”

Cue the bell. 

Find out for homework, kids. We’ll talk about it next class.

Day One Hundred Fifteen

I generally think snow days are awesome, but they throw me off SO MUCH. Like, I can’t get it through my head that it’s Friday and I don’t have to work tomorrow. And I kept saying “In class tomorrow- I mean Monday-” all day.

I also spent basically all of my prep time adjusting my schedule. Oof. 

It was an open wall day, and Mrs. T let me use all 160 minutes of our combined time to explain ISIS’ takeover of land in Syria and Iraq. I started by going over the homework, which described ISIS’ code of laws and how it was encofrced (yes, my students were suitably disgusted). They had to take a quick vocab quiz- on terms pertinent to the topic, of course- and then grab laptops and headphones to watch a Vice News piece called The Islamic State

One of my students had forgotten about the quiz, so he panicked and stormed out before I could say a word. It’s something I know he’s done in other classes, but it’s the first time it happened in mine, and I’m still a little frustrated about it (because I wasn’t able to prevent it). An aide tracked him down and brought him back to class (aides rock), and we’re going to work on figuring out how to keep that from happening again. My class shouldn’t ever provoke that kind of reaction- like, just ask me to take the quiz during study hall, it’s whatever- but sometimes kids come in with so much else stressing them out that they forget there’s a way out…

Anyways. It happened. We dealt. Back to the movie.

There are some definite pros to having students watch movies on laptops instead of on a big screen: for one thing, they can work at their own pace (so no one’s waiting around until everyone’s ready to start, and they can pause the movie to answer questions if they want to, etc…); also, they can read subtitles much more easily, and they action is so close to them that they aren’t distracted by their peers. I wouldn’t do it with a movie that’s hard to grasp because I’d want them to be asking questions, but this one’s super easy. There was nothing subtle about what ISIS did, you know?

After students finished with the movie, I gave them an assignment involving my brother’s Iraq War letters because wrote about a lot of places- Mosul, Rawah, Sinjar, Nimrud- that all fell under ISIS control. So I had students read his letters (and answer some questions about them) to get a sense for what those places were like, and then read about what ISIS did to the territory they took. 

Next class, I’ll explain how that territory was taken back. Stay tuned, kids…

One student actually got fake mad at me for building that suspense into the lesson. If she googles the Mosul and Raqqa offensives this weekend, I won’t be shocked. 

She, like many students, finished the letters assignment just before class ended. Others took it home for homework, which is totally fine. And a handful blew through it like it was nothing, which surprised me because I recalled last year’s students needing a lot of time to grasp what was being said. But, of course, students are very different from year to year. I ran off all of the stuff for the next lesson, so if there are students who get ahead on Monday, too, they can just keep going. We’ll see what happens!

As I said, I spent my prep time trying to wrap my brain around my schedule, so I actually stayed late- on a Friday!- to do my grading. I left while the sun was out, though, so it’s all good.