A few months ago, I attended a wedding for a friend from high school. Half-way through the night, something special happened: a song came on and we knew every single word. This wasn’t a catchy pop song from the radio, this was “Rasputin” by Boney M. If you haven’t heard of Boney M, you’re not the only one. They’re a 1970’s disco/pop band known in dance clubs throughout the Soviet Union.
Back in the 10th grade, we took World History with our teacher, TBH. This class completely changed how I looked at learning history. For starters, the class wasn’t just a set of boring lectures. Every unit had a central, pivotal character profiled in depth; bringing out unique characteristics that made him or her memorable.
The characters were memorable. TBH would draw detailed drawings of Kaiser Wilhelm with one short arm at the beach, or Marie Antoinette with dogs playing under her skirt. These quirks were the little things that transformed characters in history into real people I could connect with; TBH brought these characters to life. He valued the socratic style of learning where students drove conversation. We lead discussions and learned from our peers. History wasn’t just about facts to be memorized, history was about great stories and incredible people from around the world.
When it came time to learn about the Russian Revolution, we started every class period listening to “Rasputin.” By the end of the unit we had every word memorized. The test questions were constructed so they could be answered using song lyrics. For example, I can tell you the queen invited him into her home because…
“For the queen he was no wheeler dealer, Though she’d heard the things he’d done, She believed he was a holy healer.”
Through this exercise, I learned about the Russian aristocracy and the political climate simultaneously.
TBH made history fun, but more importantly, he showed me how important it was to help students build connections between what they’re learning and what’s happening in their lives. It’s something I brought into my own classroom when I taught high schoolers. I attribute much of my success in the classroom to teachers like TBH who showed me the importance of connecting the classroom to the world around us.
Photo Credit: supercoloring.com, allmusic.com
Guest Post By: Liz E.