Who is Mike Beardslee? How big were the rats?
Granted, it is the end of MP1 and I have a ton of other things to be doing but I felt the need to share these ideas. I hope these three or four dispersant ideas help me make one cohesive suggestion for you and your classes.
Imagine : it was the Spring of ’95, I am a student-teacher at a rural MS/HS on the Delaware and Maryland boarder. I believe the students had convinced me that the science classes were legally in Maryland and the English rooms were in Delaware. Truth be told, I was student-teaching but thought my college basketball coaching career was going to take off and a teaching career was secondary. After a few weeks on instruction, I started working on my first test. Professors’ suggestion about the proper way to construct a multiple choice question echoed in my head. I need a 100% wrong answer for some question. I looked around my apartment on Salisbury University’s campus and used the perfect name: Mike Beardslee.
Mike Beardslee was my then roommate. Years later, he was my best man and I am blessed to have him as a still close friend. I love when I see his children play with mine.
Then something crazy happened – kids picked his name as a correct answer. That tickled me to no end. When I returned the test, I told the students of the error and they howled! This joint moment of silliness gave me real insight. There is a lot to be said for a sense of community in a classroom.
With out fail for the 12 years of my teaching career, Mike Beardslee has appeared on every single one of my tests. He has been:
· The Queen of Egypt
· The person who shot Franz Ferdinand
· The person shot by Gavrillo Princip
· Movie Director that produced propaganda for Hitler.
· Father of Modern Psychology
· Author of The Frontier Thesis.
· Invented the idea of the invisible hand in the market economy.
· One student wrote an entire mid term essay on Mike Beardslee – sadly it was an awesome piece of work on William Jennings Bryan!
Since then, I have always found some point in the year to let a class in on the joke. Mike has even helped coach a summer camp with me and the kids were thrilled to meet Beardslee.
Years later, kids ask me how he is doing!
It is a fun moment when kids become a part of the legacy. I feel like I have always been able to do this in a way to build community inside our class. Kids love the idea of a tradition or a legacy. This sense of being a part of something allows me to demand and expect more form them
The second example of this came from my immaturity. We were covering WWI and every teacher at Pequannock suggested I use “Arming the Earth” hosted by Bill Moyers. This video was actually funded by a gas station that is now defunct.!
During one key segment describing no man’s land, a WWI vet describes the horrors he saw during the war. He said “and the rats, the rats were as big as dogs!” This moment caught me and I rewound it 100 times easy. The kids laughed, I howled and then I rewound it again! We shared a sincere moment. I turned this immaturity into a teaching point. Every test on WWI started with the question – “How big were the rats?” Midterms even lead off with that question. I also then ended WWI test with an essay about the “real” reason that I loved that quote. The answers about the horrors of trench warfare validated my hopes.
This year as the last 10, I will tell the kids that they are joining a very prestigious family. The will join a secret society that knows – “How big were the rats?” Just last week a student I taught in 2003 posted this exact question on my facebook wall. 3 years ago, as I was leaving a Starbucks – the barista yelled at me – “Campbell – how big were the rats?”
These two mistakes or coincidents taught me an important lesson about building a sense of building community in a classroom. Today, I use edmodo, greet kids at the door, try to comment on their work but nothing has gone farther then Mike Beardslee and the rats. I hope you guys find your Beardslee or rats and keep building a community in your room.
To be honest, I am more excited to see the “How big were the rats?” responses then the feedback from other educators.