Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Greatest Lesson I Never Planned

In 1999, I retired from teaching after 30 years in the classroom. During those 30 years, 15 of which involved teaching with technology, there were many incidents that reminded me of why I went into the classroom. There are many that come to mind, but there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest, because it touched and transformed so many lives. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I called the greatest lesson I never planned.

In November of 1996, Beth Klemens, our foreign language coordinator, came to my room and introduced me to eighty-one year old Curtis Clancy. She told me had had a picture of ten children and was wondering if we could help him locate them. He wanted each one to have a copy of the photo.

My initial words to Beth were, "Why don't you take him to the guidance office and start there."

Smiling she said, "I don't think that will help." The she handed me the picture which was taken in 1945 on the island of Etajima about 18 mile off the coast of Hiroshima.

Curtis didn't have a great deal more in the way of information. He told us his Army unit and a few other details. Keep in mind that this was 1997, the "early days" of the Internet, long before social networking. I knew that it was not likely that we would be able to locate ten people on the other side of the world from a few bits of information and a fifty year old picture, but how could I not try?

My students were in the middle of their term projects, but our high school foreign language department taught Japanese. The teacher, Tsuneko Kojima, three students from her fourth year class, and I met to decide how to proceed.

We began working in January. The first step was research and it provided a glimmer of hope, because Etajima was the site of the Japanese Naval Academy. The students began to see history in a different way than is presented in texts. They were seeing it from a different perspective. It came alive.

From the research came addresses. We found Etajima High School and Yasuda University which hosted the high school web site. We were excited by what we had found in a few short days.

Next came email. We began putting our our quest to as many education lists as we could find. We began to wrote letters to teachers, university professors, and anyone we thought might be able to help.

Days turned in to weeks and weeks turned into months. Every lead we found turned out to be a dead end. Students were learning history by reliving it. They were writing to adults and government officials and learning that detective work is not always exciting.

This blog post is part of the Inspiring Education Blog Contest

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