Should everyone teach the Holocaust or only those who have had training? I ask this question because recently our ELA teacher went on medical leave and left as her lesson for the remainder of the year to have the sub teach the book, “Number the Stars”. Now we could not get a sub so different teachers are teach each of the 5 class periods. There are five different approaches to teaching this book. Some are simply having the kids read it on their own, others popcorn reading, and one is actually asking comprehension questions. The problem is there is no real value in the book because of how it is being taught. I am in no way an expert in teaching the Holocaust but I have been trained by Echoes and Reflections, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arizona Jewish Foundation, Martin-Springer Institute, and have attended numerous workshops so, it drives me crazy to hear so many missed opportunities to enforce the relevance of the book especial with the continuous mistreatment of the Jewish community today.
Was it right for the ELA to leave this book when she knew full well that no one was going to teach it in the manner that she would have? Should she have selected a less meaningful book? Should she have reached out to me and asked for my support? Right now I am teaching my students about the Holocaust with the memoir, “Kiss Every Step” and students are reading aloud, working with the vocabulary as it is geared toward a higher level than my 7th grade students, identifying locations, discussing treatment, discussions on personal decisions made by the individuals and we are only on chapter 7. For each of the four classes I am teaching using this memoir the questions range from level 1 to level 4 and sometimes I need to set a few students straight on showing respect to the subject but I provide them with the evidence in the form of documents, pictures I have taken from Auschwitz and other camps and cities in Poland and Germany, and statistics. I want my students to understand the severity of this topic and not not just see at a book they read in 7th grade. I fear students who do not have me as their Social Studies teacher and are part of that ELA class are going to walk away with that feeling and it will be such a disservice.
I was not even aware this was being taught until the science teacher who picked up one of the ELA periods said the kids were reading the book in her class. I asked what her approach was for teaching it and she said popcorn reading with a list of questions the ELA teacher left. I looked at the questions and they were all level 1 questions. None of the questions evoke personal connections or inquiry into the characters or actions. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. I did walk out disappointed in the ELA teacher and the science teacher. I’m not sure if I am making more of this than I should be but the fact that this past summer I had the enlightening opportunity to visit Auschwitz, Blechhammer, Gross Rosen, and the various towns surrounding these camps made me more focused and determined to teach the Holocaust in a more profound manner. I feel it is my duty to do more with the time, materials, and personal experiences I have to teach the Holocaust.