Monday, November 9, 2009

20 Years Ago Today

I usually have a pretty good memory for events that have happened during my lifetime. But when they announced that today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was surprised that I couldn't remember much about it. I vaguely remember it happening and what a great thing it was, but that's it.

So what was I doing twenty years ago that would cause me to not remember such an historic event? It finally came to me. I was teaching all day, math in the morning and science in the afternoon. It was my first year teaching science and I would go to the science room during the first class period, which was my planning time. I would observe the other science teacher teaching the material, so that I could teach the same things during the afternoon. This meant that all my other planning had to be done after school and on weekends. I was really, really busy and fairly stressed.

But there had to be more than this to cause my memory lapse. Then I remembered that this was also the semester I was doing research for my master's thesis. I was doing a study to see if the addition of special education students in the regular classroom affected the achievement of the regular students. I was busy conducting the study, calculating statistics, writing reports, corresponding with my advisor, and driving 100 miles several times a week (after I'd taught all day) to the university to do research in the library.

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm surprised I remember anything about events that were occurring outside my own little world. I was totally consumed with what I was doing at my job and with my thesis.

Then I started thinking about some of the students I taught over the years. So many of them had lives that totally consumed them. Some dealt with overwhelming circumstances in their lives like sick parents, drug abuse, homelessness, criminal activity, physical abuse, neglect, domestic assault, and their own terminal diseases. Thank goodness there were not many of these students, but it's little wonder they had trouble learning. And yet, we expected them to perform as well as the students without these problems.

If I don't remember something as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall because I was dealing with mild stresses in my life, is it any wonder that students with such staggering obstacles in their lives should have trouble remembering their studies?

I think we need to keep this in mind when dealing with students. Most of the time, we don't know what's happening in their lives. We often think they're not paying attention, when their attention could just be focused on their own survival.


  1. I was in Germany teaching when the Wall came down. It was a very exciting time for the students. We even shut down school for a day so staff members or students and their families could be part of this historic occasion. I still have my pieces of the wall hanging in my office. Can we really be that old?

  2. How wonderful that you could be in Germany for such an historic event. And yes, I don't know about you, but I'm afraid I can be that old. When I was a kid, we used to joke that our history teachers were such great teachers because they'd lived through most of the history they were teaching. Now, that applies to me.