Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Teachers are teachers forever, if they're worth their salt.



Nicole, Hannah, Tim and Aiden listen, intently, to Mr. D. and his Stories from the Wall.
The first Vietnam death was recorded in 1959, and the last panel is labelled 1975.  Having lived through what I thought was the entire Vietnam War, these statistics surprised me.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (aka the Vietnam Memorial Wall) was designed by an Asian-American woman named Maya Lin, who met the criteria established in the contest for the memorial:

1. be reflective and contemplative in character;
2. harmonize with its surroundings;
3. contain the names of those who had died in the conflict or who were still missing;
4. make no political statement about the war.


Oh, did I mention that I learned all these things from my fifth grade teacher, 43 years after fifth grade?  It's true.  I learned all of this, along with much more, today -- in my own classroom -- in a lesson taught by Mr. Drescher.

 Never Stop Learning.

Mr. Drescher's Fifth Grade Class - 1970-71.
For true students, and true educators, learning never stops.  Life experiences grind through the gears of teachers' minds, constantly making connectionsA few weeks ago, I wrote in this blog about an experience I had using grave rubbings as primary sources.  Mr. Drescher read the blog and sent me a message via Facebook that he frequently assists individuals in a similar endeavor while serving as a volunteer at "the Wall."  Oh, and would I like for him to come to speak to my class?

Of course I jumped at the chance.  Art Drescher is a fabulous photographer, and he was offering to drive almost a hundred miles each way to talk to learners in my room about his experiences volunteering time for the National Park Service?  And bring SLIDES?  You betcha.

So today was the day.  I met Mr. D. at the door, where he rolled his cart containing slide projectors (yes, two!) a CD player, several books and other artifacts, and assorted other related electronic equipment to display the presentation.  We practiced, quickly, and determined that slide projectors and white boards are not good companions, and were able to locate an old portable screen to make the pictures more appealing.

He may be retired, but he hasn't lost his touch.  Clearly this guy was born to teach.  As my principal often encourages us, Mr. D. taught right up to "the echo of the bell" filling every moment with a full immersion experience into the lives of people touched by The Wall, its visitors, and the names and people engraved there.  For an hour and a half the kids were living the life of the yellow hat volunteers, learning about the significance of 1960s commonplace artifacts like the POW/MIA bracelet he wore on his right wrist, the effects of Napalm and Agent Orange, the impact of LIFE magazine and other photographs had both at home and abroad, and the much larger historical context of the war itself.

A significant amount of time was spent on the design, structure, placement, and reflection angles at the memorial, establishing much more significance than one would ever comprehend while visiting.  The vision of Maya Lin is, as Mr. D. suggested, part of the perfect circle that is the finished product of this memorial.

In a blog which was started to discuss teacher reflection and teacher connection, I feel it is important to stress a number of things.  I shared today that after I graduated from college, my very first substitute teaching experience was in a classroom at my old elementary school, Glenside Weldon.  You guessed it, my first "solo" teaching experience was substituting for Mr. D.   Here I am, 31 years later co-teaching with him, and still learning.  In addition to all the historical context and content shared, Mr. D. also arrived with a 3 ring binder containing class photos.  (See above)  On the page previous to my 5th grade picture was a typed and mimeographed list, which indicated that my mother was a "class mother" who would be called by Lou Terese, should the class phone chain be activated.  I am so old that my phone number began with TUrner 7.  (I hesitate to list the rest of it, as my mother would still answer that phone number today!)  Behind the picture was a bulletin from Valerie Lewis' funeral, and an obituary clipping honoring Mark Cristaldi.

Teachers are teachers forever, if they're worth their salt.  Clearly Mr. D. is one of the best.  I'm sure we'll continue to see each other on Facebook, and I suspect he may make the drive out to National History Day competition this spring, since I bent his ear quite a bit about that experience as well.

It was sort of surreal to be both the colleague and the student in the same conversation.

In a very, very, very nice way.