Annie Thorn is senior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. This week, Annie offers some thoughts on donuts, immigration history, and teaching her first class.—JF
“Wait, did you just say ‘pop’? It’s called soda!” Since moving to south-central Pennsylvania, I get this a lot. You would think that college students would know by now that there are different names for the sweet, carbonated beverage that so often accompanies a burger and fries. While I am in the minority here at Messiah University, I have caught a few of my housemates saying “pop” instead of “soda” every once in a while. It makes me happy that some of my “Midwest-isms” are rubbing off on them.
A similar discussion came up a couple weeks ago, while I was brainstorming ideas for my first lesson of my junior field experience at a local middle school. My mentor teacher, who planned on buying doughnuts for his students to celebrate Fat Tuesday, asked me to come up with something to teach along with it. As I talked through my ideas with my housemates, we soon discovered that another controversy– similar to the pop vs. soda debate–surrounds Fat Tuesday doughnuts. Growing up in Michigan, I had only ever eaten paczkis. I remember Sweetwater’s selling these deep-fried treats and my friend complaining that her egg allergy prevented her from eating them. But my housemates, both of them born and raised near Lancaster, had never heard of paczkis. They were only familiar with fastnachts.
After a quick internet search, we discovered that a fastnacht is a German variation of the Fat Tuesday pastry, brought over to Pennsylvania by its many German immigrants. Paczkis, on the other hand, made their way to the Midwest with Polish immigrants who came to find work in industrial cities like Chicago and Detroit. With Google’s help, we solved the puzzle–the doughnut debate. Fascinating. The wheels started turning in my brain and I pushed aside all my previous lesson plans.
I took this idea–this “doughnut debate”–and ran with it. After talking it over with my mentor teacher, I worked away on a lesson plan and constructed a few image-filled powerpoint slides. Then, a few days later, I taught my first lesson in front of dozens of eighth graders, half of them in-person and half on zoom. We started by discussing the different words we use for things, depending on where we are from (including pop/soda and Fat Tuesday doughnuts). Then we talked about immigration and culture, and how they are connected. “When immigrants move to a new home, they bring parts of their culture with them,” I explained. This concept applied to the immigrants who came to the United States hundreds of years ago, and it still applies to us today.
Overall, I think my first day of teaching went pretty well. I got a bit flustered trying to maneuver instructing students on Zoom and in-person simultaneously. I got sticky fastnacht glaze on my shirt before the students even arrived. At the end of the day when I watched my recorded lesson, I realized I say “yeah” far more than the average person. I guess I’ll have to work on that in the coming weeks. There were a few bumps in the road, but I’m excited to try again and hopefully improve a bit too.
Today, a week after teaching my first lesson, my mentor teacher gave me some great advice. He said, “Teach the way you wish you were taught.” I’m still learning how to make history exciting and relevant to my students’ lives. Most of the time, I am afraid I will be fighting an uphill battle. But I hope that someday I’ll become the teacher I wish I had when I was in school. Someone who cares. Someone whose passion is contagious. Someone who can make history come to life.