So there we were, the young student teacher and me, the veteran mentor, meeting to discuss his teaching unit on World War II. It could have been the all business type of review where I approve what he's planned, or I suggest a few resources, or even encourage him to develop his own curriculum instead of depending on what his Cooperating Teacher (placement) had to offer. All typical agendas for such meetings. But this one felt differently.
At the outset, I could tell he was eager to ask me questions, eager to listen to my responses. What started out as wanting to carefully explain that he needed to focus in on just a few topics became unnecessary because he began by noting just that. We easily agreed on two or three components from a list of 10 possible topics he has written.
He asked for strategies and when I gave him a diagram of a Problem Analysis, he immediately liked the idea and saw exactly how he might enhance some of his ideas by including that activity. Having students discuss moral dilemmas and reason the consequences of proposed solutions is always preferable to filling in blanks or responding to multiple choice questions. We spoke about everything from Japanese Relocation to the Holocaust, to the decision to drop the atomic bomb. I think it was when he mentioned that he's taken some photographs at former concentration camps when visiting relatives in Germany that it hit me. Here we were, the grandson of a German POW captured in France and the great grandson of Eastern European Jews, so of which were imprisoned in camps sitting down together to discuss teaching World War II.
As his supervisor, I'll be dropping in and observing a lesson or two. Hopefully I see something I've not seen before. For teachers, WWII is the mother lode of teaching materials. So much is available. So much is online or on film. If a teacher decides to go beyond names, dates, and terms; to go beyond video clips, movie scenes, and traditional texts, there is always room for something new. War, through the eyes of those who experienced it on all levels, in all places, always leaves more of an impression than a chapter in a book. When Kristof, my young teacher colleague shows some photos taken inside those camps, he'll no doubt share his emotional reactions with his students. He will offer another dimension to their learning. I may be there to offer mine as well.