Trying to Make a Difference

I take my job seriously.  While I am at times frustrated and disappointed with the students and question their work ethic and desire to learn, that does not stop me from trying to give them a quality lesson every day. I pride myself on my work ethic.

The Spring term began in the beginning of February.  Shortly thereafter, my 10th grade classes and I began reading the book Night by Elie Wiesel. The autobiographical book focuses on the author’s experience during the Holocaust. It follows Elie and his family through the period from before the war through deportation, concentration camps, and finally liberation.  As one would expect, it is a gut-wrenching tale full of sadness, although the author mostly stays away from expressing his emotions. 

I have taught every high school grade over the course of my 9-year career.  However, I have the least experience with 10th grade. Therefore, this was the first time I would be teaching the book Night – or any book related to the Holocaust (10th grade curriculum at my school). When my assistant principal instructed me to teach the book, I had mixed emotions. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to teach a book focused on the Holocaust. I had ideas on how I would do it but nothing concrete. While I always feel an obligation to get the students interested in the text, this book, Night, has been different.  As a Jewish teacher in an inner city school made up primarily of Carribean Americans and Hispanics, I have always felt like a bit of an outsider. While religion rarely comes up in class, it is still abundantly clear to the students and myself that our backgrounds are dramatically different.  On top of that, it is clear that the students have little knowledge of the Holocaust other than the day or so that they spend on it in history class.  So, teaching Night is so much more than helping the students appreciate literature, learn some literary elements, or other typical English class lessons. 

I have struggled with Night. I want everything to be perfect. I want to be engaging, and the students to be enthralled, curious, moved, disturbed, inquisitive, etc. Surprise – it is not going that way. Some kids don’t like the book. Some say it is boring. Some even put their head down in class (and I ask them to pick it up).  I want to shake them and say, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know how serious, how terrible, how important this subject is?”  However, I have not said any of those things. Part of me thinks I should be even more passionate than I have been and maybe it will rub off on the students. Another part of me says, “what is important and meaningful to me does not necessarily have the same impact on others. Besides, not everyone deals with depressing/heavy material in the same way.”  The topic is close to me and is clouding my judgment. It is difficult for me to teach the book. However, it is worth it when seeing even just a few students get an understanding of the terrible part of history known as the Holocaust.  I’ll continue to prepare and hope that tomorrow even more students will appreciate the lessons taught.