Memory and Questioning

Sometimes, as a teacher, I feel like I am supposed to know everything.
Really, I hold a collection of facts and understandings that I can share with my students. But I’ve never been able to memorize dates and names the way I feel like I am expected to.

“When did World War II start?”
“Um. 1941. I think. It’s debatable? Let’s check. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ve forgotten and am afraid I’m wrong.”

This is a very mixed situation. It’s terrible because it makes me feel like I’m unprepared – I should know the facts off the top of my head when I’m teaching a class on the subject. It does no good to seem ill-prepared or unknowledgeable in front of my students and it sets me up as disorganized at a time when (especially for middle school) I am supposed to be teaching organization.

On the flip side – It allows me to expand on the vagaries of History. When did WWII actually start? It could be argued that there are several different points of beginning, especially if you broaden it to include the Pacific Theatre, which we probably should, in order to de-Westernize our tellings of history.

Not knowing a fact or a date off the top of my head allows me to model researching and following through on a question or a wondering. It also allows me to guide my students through the process of expanding on what might at first seem to be straightforward, and taking it deeper.

I love teaching at a time when I have the internet at my disposal. I am glad I’ve been trained to not give worksheets/reading exercises that focus on ‘right answer’ thinking, with text in bold and bullet points, where students just skim read for the information. My goofing up and forgetting things is made up for by my willingness to admit my human failure and then look it up immediately, with my students’ participation, so that we can all together find the right answers/debate whether the answer is even right.

This balance will be especially difficult with older students, when content becomes more important in class. I’ll navigate it, and make sure I’m better prepared to answer the obvious questions. I’ll start memorizing those damn timelines and find ways to get dates to stick in my brain. I did it once – I can do it again!

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