What is a Teachable Moment?
Last Sunday night, I watched a prerecorded episode of 60 Minutes, “Canada’s Unmarked Graves, Sharswood”. The Sharswood story described an African American family, the Millers, that moved into an old house. With the help of a historian, they discovered that their own family, formerly enslaved people, lived on the plantation. Toward the end of the show, the new owners discovered a cemetery on the property, back in the woods, where their ancestors were buried. Small stones barely taller than dead leaves functioned as headstones.
We’re studying Beloved by Toni Morrsion in class, so a lightbulb went off. Beloved is a difficult character to interpret because it’s hard to understand her relevance, history’s relevance – why she’s important not just in the story, but today. She transcends time and forces the modern reader to find the meaning of her resurrection, and the reason Morrison felt compelled to bring this story to life. In the case of the Millers, their house, just like the haunted house in Beloved, contained a very real connection to the dead. The Miller family never talked about slavery, just like Sethe, the protagonist of Beloved. It feels like there are a lot of people today that don’t want to talk about the past. Silence about history, racism, and discrimination perpetuates ignorance and hate.
This is one example of a teachable moment, a moment in our lives or in the news that presents itself as an undeniable opportunity for a meaningful conversation. I treat some teachable moments as an opportunity, ironically, not to teach, but to ask questions and listen. I paused class to talk about the insurrection, the pandemic, the War in Afghanistan, immigration, and even, The Bachelor. I stopped for a teachable moment when the Phillies won the World Series. Teachable moments are not rare in my classroom. Every day, I mention movies, statistics, podcasts, the news, and personal stories that relate to the literature we study in class. During Free Literacy Blocks, students get the opportunity to explore what is, in essence, teachable moments from the real world, profound questions that need answers. Teachable moments should not be a rare, once a year opportunity to pause and reflect on reality. They should be embedded in everything we do.
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers