“I was born by the river in a little tent
Ohh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”
If you were a student in my classroom, there is no way that you could have read those words. Once you’ve experienced music, you find rhythm and meaning in words like that and you don’t just read them, you hear them. There is a lot of talk in the educational community about engaging students. As a teacher, we are up for a pretty big battle. The world that our students live in is full to the brim of engaging devices, experiences, and situations.
I had the absolute pleasure of looping with my class over the past two years, 4th and 5th grade and according to the South Carolina standards, we covered all of human history in that time. We went from the Land Bridge right up to Globalization and how interdependence has shaped today’s world. As you can probably figure out, that timeline doesn’t lend itself to a lot of depth but certainly covers breadth. As their teacher, not only am I asking kids to take that giant journey with me, I’m also asking them to relate to time periods that are vastly different from their own. Vastly different from my own.
However, one note that strikes a chord with almost every human being that I have come into contact with is a beat, a rhythm, a deep rooted tapping of the foot that leads straight to the heart. We don’t just learn about the Native American tribes that lived upon our soil, we hear the rhythm of their drums and the tones of their pan flute that can be used to evidence how multiple influences and cultures ended up on our continent. When the boys go marching out to War on the battlegrounds of Antietam and Gettysburg, I have a lone drummer at the front of my room, tapping out the march as we feel the footsteps of those who died in our country so long ago.
As a southerner, I have always felt a sense of pride in my heritage. However, there is great sadness that fills me when I think of the inequality that my history was founded in. I am so lucky to live in a time when the simplest of dreams that Dr. King spoke of are alive and flourishing in my diverse classroom. But we also remember when we hear Mr. Cooke sing, listen to Mahalia Jackson with a voice that can only be described as “angelic,” and look at the beautiful Mrs. Lena Horne that these fine artists were denied entrance into the very places they performed. My technology may not be high-tech. I bring in an old record player and a few worn out looking squares, some with “hippies” on them. But the moment that needle touches the groove, my kids are standing at their desks, debating over whether or not we should send our young men to Vietnam to fight communism or paint peace signs on our faces to oppose a battle that we already know will end in death for so many.
The moment the first note of Thriller fills the room, the kids all eye each other knowingly, as if to say, “Michael Jackson is a part of my family.” But what they don’t know is how we will connect his music to punk rock, the Reagan administration, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. We don’t just read about Globalization, we hear the pop music currently playing on the radio in India, Russia, Tibet, Brazil, Greece, and any other place we want to “visit”. Technology allows us to travel like this. We move past the record player and recognize that the past isn’t in the past and that the struggle isn’t over in other countries (or maybe even our own).
I begin every unit with music and incorporate the sound of history into my lessons. Science has sound too. When we are studying oceans and landforms, for instance, I take the kids on a journey to San Francisco Bay with the sound of the water lapping, a distant foghorn, and seals playing in the water. Nature creates its own music and connects us, once again, to the learning that is happening in the classroom. It moves us beyond the walls and across the continent. It soothes us during reading time or gets us fired up during an energizer.
By the end of fifth grade, the kids are asking bigger questions than I know how to answer, so sometimes, we just put on some jazz, put our thoughts on paper, and let the rhythm in our hearts write our very own history. Teaching isn’t just about facts, those are available in the pocket of every kid with a phone. It’s storytelling, awareness making, and future hoping. We aren’t just there for their minds, we do our best to give them a little heart and a whole lot of soul.
I am a 5th grade teacher in Columbia, SC and a proud graduate of the University of South Carolina where I cheer on the Gamecocks for every game during football season! I think of myself as a “Teaching Ninja,” but not just because I am the height of a 5th grader and blend in well. I am a coach in the classroom and I let the kids take charge of their own learning as often as possible. Through workshop, Genius Hour, and inquiry activities, I hope to inspire, encourage, and ignite creativity and passion. In my free time, I cater to the whims and appetites of two adorable dogs named Picasso and Willowby and I make things out of yarn. Sometimes I say neat things or retweet other people who say neat things. Follow me @miamayer or my class @msmayersclass.