Updated: May 23, 2018
"Not history again"
All these phrases have been uttered by most students at one time or another. If I'm being honest, they get muttered in my home, by my very own children, fairly often. I probably even said them myself as I was growing up. But that changed during my 7th grade year of school. I had a dynamic social studies teacher named Robbie Robertson (Mr. Rob to his students). He was one of those teachers who was a little bit too cool for school. He listened to rock music during his planning period and liked to talk about his various tastes in music with his students, which, looking back now, I realize probably helped many of his students relax and learn more in his class. He wrote his notes on the two huge black boards in his classroom and we had to copy them down when we came into class. (This was way before power points or smart boards).
For me, as much as I enjoyed Mr. Rob's personality, I didn't like the subject too much. History was so stuffy and boring. It never really changed. Then, one day late in 1991, it did change. We walked into Mr. Rob's class, took our usual seats, and waited on him to start class. When he walked up to the front of the class he was carrying our text book. He held it up in front of the class and said something along the lines of, "Well, everything in this book is now wrong. The U.S.S.R. has just dissolved. So all of this is no longer correct." He dropped the book with a loud thud in the trash can.
And just like that, history changed right before our very eyes. The big, scary U.S.S.R was no more. We had grown up with our parents telling us how they were scared the Russians would drop a bomb on the United States at any moment. They told us about the drills they did in school in case a bomb did drop. Let's face it, the Russians were the bad guys in almost every action/adventure movie we watched. And now, the whole thing was something different.
I'm not sure if we continued to use those text books and I couldn't tell you what Mr. Rob taught us the rest of the year, but I do know that this was the moment that sparked my interest in history. I suddenly realized that history could change (and often does). It wasn't static, it was dynamic, just like Mr. Rob.
I became a frequent visitor to Mr. Rob's classroom after that. He was patient with me (I was a horrendous speller and tended to butcher the names of the countries on his tests). He became my favorite teacher. In the 8th grade we had to pick a "track" for high school, either "college prep" or "tech prep". It would set the tone for our high school education. I had picked "tech prep" because I didn't think I would go to college. My parents hadn't gone, so I probably wouldn't go either. Mr. Rob was the one who pulled me aside and told me not to limit myself or my options in life. He told me I was a smart kid and I could go to college. It wasn't until then that I started to think differently about myself.
His patience and encouragement changed my life. This teacher changed my life and impacted it in too many ways to count. One day, a few years ago, I woke up in panic. I had dreamed about being in Mr. Rob's classroom. I knew I needed to reach out to him and thank him for being a wonderful teacher. I called my mom (who still lives in the town I grew up in) and frantically asked her if she knew where Mr. Rob lived now. She didn't, so I reached out to some other folks who I thought might know. In the meantime, I sat down and wrote Mr. Rob a long letter thanking him for giving me confidence in myself as a student and for sparking my lifelong love of history. A mutual friend got in touch with me and gave me his address and also gave me the news that Mr. Rob was not in good health. I sent my letter in the mail that day. Later on his wife reached out to me and let me know that he had received my letter and had enjoyed reading it, but he had been too sick to reply back. He passed away shortly after. I'm glad I sent that letter. I'm glad he knew how much he impacted my life. I wish I would have sent it to him sooner.
We ask a lot of our public school teachers. Many of the children they teach come from home situations that can affect their behavior. There are many different learning styles that children have and teachers are expected to incorporate these into their lessons plans daily. Classrooms are filled to capacity with student who have good and bad behavior, diverse skill levels, and various amounts of interest, and all in one classroom. Teachers are expected to deal with it all. Occasionally, I will go and have lunch with my children at school and I'm exhausted just from being on their turf for 30 minutes. How they do it, day in and day out, I will never know. There are so many teachers out there like Mr. Rob. They take an interest in a student, give them some confidence in themselves, and then step back and watch them change their world. Take the time to thank the teachers who made a difference in your life. I'm sure they would love to hear it.