Minooka Teacher Uses Real-Life Experiences To Deepen Classroom Lessons
To help students empathize with Holocaust victims, teacher Tammy Walsh had students take a walk in their shoes, or lack thereof—literally.
Trudging through the snow in bare feet causes the feet to burn, go numb, and eventually feel lifeless, according to eighth-grade students in Tammy Walsh’s Language Arts class who walked outside school without shoes in the snow last week.
The students had recently read an account from a 9-year-old Romanian Jewish child who was forced on a death march with other Jews during Hitler’s reign in 1941.
Beyond just sharing information, the Minooka Junior High School teacher wants her students, who are studying the Holocaust, to have experiences that will help them relate to the plight of the people they are studying.
“I talk with my students about the death marches that Hitler forced the victims to make, but like much of history, it is difficult for students to imagine,” Walsh said.
So after reading the young Romanian's account, Walsh’s students took off their shoes and socks and walked about 50 feet outside the school, out one school door and into the next Jan. 13. Parent permission was received ahead of time.
The students shrieked when their bare feet hit the snow. There was some horseplay, but most walked quickly and made a beeline back to the door. Students said they experienced a feeling like heat, and then icy coldness.
“It’s really fun to experience it," student Kaitlyn Greenland said. "I can’t imagine doing it for 30 miles."
The march was only one of the numerous interactive experiences that Walsh and other Minooka eighth-grade teachers are using as students study the Holocaust.
The students were given ration coupons for basic needs, researched the specific life of a child of the Holocaust and wore that child's identification papers. Through these experiences, Walsh hopes her students can empathize with victims of oppression—in this case, the persecuted Jews.
“We discuss what happened and students understand, but the stories are so out of their realm of life experiences that I am always trying to think of ways to help them to really appreciate in some small way how it must have felt,” she said.
The students will also be studying The Diary of Anne Frank.
“After they go through some of these experiences, they have an appreciation of why the people, like Anne Frank’s family, were hiding for two years," Walsh said. "Once the students go through this, they understand where (the need) to hide came from.”
She hopes the lessons will translate to tolerance in the modern day.
“As a longtime teacher, I find the most memorable lessons are those that we personally experience," Walsh said. "In this time of bullying in schools, I cannot think of a more appropriate unit of study teaching tolerance, understanding, and compassion for those we live and work with and for those who suffer daily around the world."