As my students and I continue in our Holocaust Memorial Unit, we are reading Elie Wiesel’s memoir novella Night. Having taught this unit for all six years of my teaching career, I aways feel a bit unsettled at the end. How to bring a sense of closure that equals the significance and depth of this learning?
And so I return to my own lessons of remembrance. It is work, and it is valuable. How can I bring my students with me in this realization? Also, how can I reach out to those kinesthetic boys who I have recently seen sleepily nodding in our class discussion? I need movement…a change of pace and scenery…something memorable.
Could I share with them the unconscious morning routine I have developed? When I arrive at work the sun has not yet deigned to make an appearance, and the wind usually whips my bags around me as I make the trek from my car to the door. Winter in PA can be a dark and bitter event. Nearly every time I begin complaining in my head about what a miserable way this is to start my morning. And then I remember that in worse conditions innocent people were forced to stand at attention for hours with little more than ill-fitting rags to shield them. This has unconsciously become a silent remembrance for me in my daily life.
What if I offer my students a bit of that experience? Share with them the feel of the wind and the temporary discomfort. Have them see the walk that feel so long to me, but in reality is hardly worth mentioning. I could then explain how this walk has become a way for me to practically remember the Holocaust and in a very small way honor the suffering of its victims. Beyond that, I could share that this unit has become a regular way for me to honor the memory and legacy of those who died as well as educate future generations about history so that they can be on guard to it happening again. I wonder if they will get what I am trying to do or resort to a typical high school eye roll?
I could take them back to our classroom with its warmth and familiarity and ask them: what will you do to remember these lesson? How could you memorialize those innocent lives who were brutalized and disregarded? This could turn into a discussion or an individual reflection. But the trick is to help them understand that for this, a grade is insignificant…and I’m not sure I can pull it off. But among my other ideas this has the potential to create an impression and allow students to take ownership of their own closure to all that they have seen, heard, and experienced.
For now, I continue musing…while welcoming any and all feedback!