Day 4 – Civil Rights Tour of the South – The start of something new
Since I love numbers, I’m going to begin my final tour post with some breakdown information. Over 26 hours, and on three separate buses, we traveled over 1400 miles on this trip. That may sound miserable to some, but it gave me a lot of time to really ingest everything that happened over the course of 4 days. I alternated between trying to take in everything I could see along the road, analyzing what I was experiencing each day, putting on my headphones and zoning out to music when I couldn’t turn my brain off, spending quality time with coworkers who I would probably have never said more than a few words to otherwise, and sleeping.
Outside of my own personal experience and reflections, I gained a lot from this trip. As I previously mentioned, I connected with other teachers from different schools within the district, and felt that I made more connections with these people than with some other people with whom I work every day. I got to know some of their personal stories, and I got to know some teachers beyond the 10-second hellos that we normally get in our building.
I had some trepidation before this trip began. I had been on overnight trips with students before, but they were always for sports, and they were always with “my kids.” Coaching a team brings a level of familiarity with your athletes, and is done on a much smaller scale with only 8-12 kids on a trip. While I had taught some of the students on this trip in my classes, I did not have a personal relationship with many of the 25. It usually takes time to build a relationship with students, and it has to be cultivated every day at school, but this trip seemed to break that down. There was a mutual respect amongst all people on the trip, adults and students, and the ease with which conversations could happen between anyone at any time was impressive.
What also stood out to me was the reaction that the students had to the speakers who had lived through the history, as well as the historic sites that we visited along the way. Hands-on learning is no new educational trend, but this trip really emphasized to me the importance for students being able to connect personally with their learning. Yes, these students are not the average students, they worked hard all year to raise money for the chance to go on this trip, so they are clearly more invested than most. However, any time someone spoke to us during this trip, tour leaders included, the room was silent and all attention was focused for every word.
I seek advice from professionals, but I have never gone out of my way to seek out in-person speakers, virtual tours of places, or even Skype sessions with experts. I have used a video of my grandmother telling her story during the holocaust (always something that the students mention when they remember my class), but I think this trip will push me to find more experiences like that for my students along the way during the school year.
Finally, I saw the value in everyone getting at least his or her 30 seconds to speak. The first night we did a breakdown session we were assembled in a circle and commanded to speak for 15 seconds about what stood out to us the most. As we were about to begin, one of the other teachers asked if we could take a minute or two to discuss with people next to us before we answered. Our leaders politely turned us away from that, saying that they didn’t want those discussions to lead people to just agree with someone else and answer with exactly the same answers. Most of my class discussions are critical thinking exercises. They often turn into small group discussions where I have one group member share out for everyone. I’m definitely going to add more discussions where everyone gets their 15 seconds. I shy away from it sometimes because I hate being called out on the spot. I’m much better in writing than I am as a spontaneous speaker and I am sure many students share those feelings, but that exercise helped me get to know each of the students and teachers so much better by hearing their voice.
While the genesis of this trip was a tour of social justice and civil rights sites in conjunction with our school’s social justice club, the Game Changers, this trip offered so much more. This summer was my first without basketball coaching responsibilities in 15 years. I really didn’t know what direction I would take things, and everyday life often got in the way of my grand plans. Before this trip I had reached a point of frustration about a perceived lack of progression of my plans to update my lesson plans, and was feeling flustered about starting another school year feeling behind. This trip was rejuvenating. Some years I count down the days wishing summer would just slow down, but I’m ready to start the year today. Even if I don’t have all my changes set in stone, this experience has given me myriad ideas to help move our kids forward all year.