During my first year as a teacher, I wanted to make my students inspired. Inspired to learn, inspired to be good kids, inspired to grow up and become contributing members to society. And when I had a week to create my own social studies lesson, I decided to try something different.
I decided to teach a lesson about inspiration using story.
It was an interesting week when the lesson was being taught. During the first few days, we’d gotten hit by a terrible winter storm and the heater in the classroom had went out. My students were all huddled in the school library having class for the morning, and to four and five year olds, nothing says awesome like being able to have class in the part of the building where all the “big kids” are. We practiced math, we did some reading and writing, and when it came time for social studies I pulled out a picture.
It was of a young boy. The picture was cartoonish because I never could quite find a young picture of this guy on the internet, drawn and painted as if from a few centuries back, and the kids didn’t know who he was. I only told them his name was Alex, and as I held the picture up I began to tell a story.
This young boy had a hard life. His father left him, his brother, and his mother all alone. His mother had to raise him by herself. In the Caribbean, where he lived, his home was ravaged by a terrible hurricane. He didn’t have much of a chance to go to school after his mother died. He lost everything and had to go to work at a store while still a kid. Many times he had to teach himself by reading books. Life was really hard for him.
After setting the picture down, I asked the students a question.
“How do you think the little boy turned out when he grew up? Do you think he became a good person? Do you think he did anything good with his life?”
Every student in the room shook their heads and said no.
“Why?” I asked.
Life was hard. He didn’t get much of an education. His dad left. To the kids, it was simple why this little boy didn’t have a chance in life. He didn’t have much of a future because he had such a terrible past.
“Alright.” I said as I pulled out another picture. “Let’s see who this little boy became.”
I pulled out a $10 bill. On the middle of the bill was a portrait of a famous American founding father named Alexander Hamilton.
“The little boy who didn’t get to go to school much went to America and attended college.” I began, telling them his life story. “The job he had to work at the store when he was a kid taught him about money. He became the first Secretary of Treasury in America and helped build the country like it is today. The hurricane that destroyed his town gave him an opportunity to write for the newspaper about it. He also wrote something called The Federalist Papers that is considered a classic today.”
The kids were shocked. They didn’t expect someone who “clearly didn’t have much to work with” actually did some good with his life. As we went through other stories of famous individuals like Phillis Wheatley and Albert Einstein, the kids became astounded that people who had such difficult or hard beginnings could overcome them and become great people. After the lesson was over, they became inspired, feeling like they too could make the world a better place no matter what obstacle came their way.
So what was the point of the lesson? If you’ve ever worked in the education field, you’ll know there’s a lot of hopelessness out there. Divorce, poverty, bullying, inequality. Like kids in the past, kids today may have a lot going against them. I know growing up as the only kid in class with divorced parents, I was ignored and bullied for years for something I knew little about. When I was in jr. high, however, I read the story of Jonathan in the Bible. Like me, he had issues with his father. Friendship was also important to him. Even though he did the right thing, he sometimes didn’t get rewarded for it.
When I read the story of Jonathan, I felt a connection with his character. Despite his hardships, he still did the right thing.
And that story inspired me to do the same. My life changed because of his story.
My history lesson may not have taught my kids much about history. Being ages four and five, I’m not sure they understood how all of these individuals impacted our world today. What I do hope, however, is by listening to these stories of hope, they would be inspired. That just because a parent abandoned them, they still matter. That just because someone calls them “stupid”, they are actually smart. That just because everyone thinks they’re nothing, they are actually something, and they are important.
What I hope, more than anything, is they realize their story is inspirational too.