This week, I had the honor of presenting my personal account of teaching in a classroom four miles from the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City for the 23rd time. On the anniversary day, Thursday, students in Mr. Culbertson's class joined us to hear about the event that changed our lives. Then, the next day, Mrs. Mouton's and Mrs. Nold's classes came over to hear about it, as well.
I don't know how this year's presentation was different (I don't think it was.), but Thursday's group, which included Mr. C's and my students, reacted superbly. Mrs. Pearce, our school counselor, joined us. She has never heard my account, and I was nervous that she was going to say that it was too much for fourth graders. On the contrary, when I asked if I had kept it appropriate, she said, "Absolutely." Pearce was impressed with the way that our students empathized with the people affected by the bombing, and she remarked about how she watched students physically realize the gravity of the situation.
I, too, was impressed. I know that my class is an anomaly in this - that many of the members are quite sensitive, but when a situation like the OKC bombing is presented, I should hope that those sensitivities reveal themselves. The event is a tearful one, and I'd say around 90% of our classes on Thursday were crying. We emptied two boxes of tissues. Don't get me wrong - I don't want to gloat about making my students cry, and it is not my goal to send them home with uncontrollable sobbing. What I like to see is my students sharing an experience. I like seeing them put themselves in the shoes of the needy and the suffering. I enjoy watching the compassion rolling off of them.
When I came to the image of a firefighter peering into the face of a baby, I shared my personal connection with that baby, telling the classes that my wife was holding that little one-year-old just four days prior to the April 19 explosion. After an extended pause, the story sank in. AALIYAH immediately jumped into action, distributing tissues to her peers. Her method of reaction was to serve others, and she was relentless in carrying out her self-imposed task. And while a casual observer might not think that's a big deal, a critical observer recognizes the importance of such a reaction.
Assistant Principal McCombs came in for the Friday presentation. Something was different about Friday though. When we came to emotional sections of my presentation, my presentation failed to strike the same chord with the other two classes. Maybe it was because it my second time through it in as many days. Maybe it was because of the chemistry of the other classes. Nevertheless, Ms. McCombs confided in me that she was so thoroughly engaged that the morning passed in the blink of an eye for her. She felt the class - which consists primarily of lecture by the way - was incredibly engaging.
In thinking of the two days, I still see a difference in the Hoggatteer Experience. With a lot of work, and with eight or nine months passing, our class has the unique ability to think in terms of service and compassion instead of selfishly wondering what's in it for them. They are less interested in the broken buildings and more interested in humanity and life.
If our attitudes can be trained, I like the direction in which we are headed in our classroom at the end of the hall.