305. A Teachable Moment

Teachable moments don’t always happen according to the schedules in teachers’ lesson plans. Learning is going on all the time, and good teachers have been known to teach great lessons that were never planned. They listen to children, and respond to what they hear by saying or doing things that guide children toward important concepts. And sometimes whatever is written in lesson plans, no matter how well-conceived, will just have to wait.
One of the many luxuries of being retired and volunteering in a school is that I don’t have to write lesson plans any more. That means I can spend more time and energy noticing and responding to teachable moments. Since I’m not in charge of the class, I don’t have to make sure child A, B, and C are doing important, constructive things while I respond to child D’s teachable moment.
But I’m also free to notice how classroom teachers respond to those moments, and then later, write about them. And I recently witnessed a great one. It happened during recess. Two children were talking about war, and one of them said to the other, “You guys bombed us at Pearl Harbor, but then we dropped an atom bomb on you.” The other child disagreed, and soon the two of them approached the teacher. The teacher was asked to settle the dispute by providing facts.
As you may have guessed, one of the children had recent ancestors who were Japanese, and the other didn’t. In this country, at this point in our history, we have African-Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, Asian- Americans, and so on. We are a nation of “you guys.” I love the line in “Finian’s Rainbow” that goes, “My family has been havin’ trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country!”
I saw the look on the teacher’s face. She glanced toward me as if to say, “Teachable moment!” It was recess, and the clock was about to end recess, but this teacher, at this moment, was not going to be ruled by any clock. She talked with the two children about the term “you guys” as it was being used in this conversation. By the way, the child who didn’t appear to have Japanese ancestors had a last name that seemed to indicate that some of his ancestors
were also involved in some significant events in World War II. But last names, facial features, and all that are not reliable clues to ancestry, and ancestry is neither destiny nor responsibility. Neither child had ever bombed the other.
The teacher did provide the requested facts about Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, but not until she’d made it clear how she felt about the sadness of war, and the inappropriateness of the phrase “you guys” in this discussion. And the two children, who had already been friends, had something important to think about.

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