A Positive Educational Experience

  • Complete the Journal writing activity [discuss a good and bad school experience].

OK, I can cross one more thing off my to-do list. I also read the first chapter of my book. Here, in its entirety, is the most positive educational experience I had. I’ll post the negative one tomorrow.

When I was in 7th grade, my history teacher, Ms. Snyder, had us do an activity she called “The Great Redwood Controversy.” Upon reflection, I think this must have been a unit plan she purchased, because our materials all had a very professional (i.e. not hand-created) quality. My teacher assigned us all roles; we were not allowed to pick. I remember this clearly, because I didn’t like the role I had been assigned. I was probably the most liberal kid in my class. I was the only kid in my class who voted for Walter Mondale in the mock election we had. I was concerned about the environment. The controversy we were to examine in this unit is what we should do legally and morally regarding usage of resources in the National Forest. I played the part of a lawyer arguing a case before congress. My clients were a company who wanted to use a part of the forest land for logging. Well, naturally, I didn’t agree with that at all. How on earth was I going to argue for it? I dove in and did what I was assigned to do, as I often did in school—I was a good student. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but after I started working on it, I really wanted to. I wanted my peers to vote for my company to use the land. I was frustrated by my peers’ unwillingness to see the logic in my arguments. Surely most of the land must be set aside for preservation, but did that mean all? Couldn’t my clients use some of the land? I knew it wasn’t going to go my way, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed when my classmates (the Senate) voted me down.

Shortly after the unit was over, I was sitting in Ms. Snyder’s class and was asked over the intercom to report to the assistant principal’s office. I had never had to go to the principal’s or asst. principal’s office for any reason, and I was scared. I had no idea what I had done. The asst. principal had a little bit of fun with that, too. He asked me if I knew why I was there. I fearfully confessed that I did not. He smiled, which put me at ease a bit, and he said for me to relax; it was for a good thing. He then read me the contents of a special award Ms. Snyder was giving me for my work on the Redwood Controversy unit. She said I argued my position well without becoming overwhelmed. She was acknowledging me for my work, even though I didn’t win. I saved the award for years. I think it is still around the house somewhere, but when I went to look for it just now, I couldn’t find it. I know I’d never throw it away. Of all the awards I received in school, I’m proudest of this one, and I didn’t realize that until I wrote it just now. I am proudest of it, because a teacher recognized me for working hard and doing well on an assignment when I didn’t think I had—I didn’t win, after all. However, in Ms. Snyder’s view, winning and losing the debate in the eyes of my classmates wasn’t what mattered. What mattered is what I learned and how much effort I put into fulfilling my role in the activity. When I went back to class after getting the award, I remember Ms. Snyder caught my eye and smiled, and I smiled back. I don’t think I could have articulated then how much the award meant. In a way, I wish I could let her know somehow, because she probably never knew the impact that acknowledgement had on me. In fact, for some time after the activity, I considered being a lawyer. I had decided at the age of six to become a teacher and only wavered for a short time after this unit.

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