Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Memories of Junior High

Carmen, blogger and mother of millions (OK, I exaggerate, only 6) at Mom to the Screaming Masses has asked for stories of our favorite teacher. This is sort of difficult for me, because I actually have several favorite teachers, but one was so outstanding that I always remember Mr Levine as the best teacher I ever had in school.

I attended Hale Junior High in Woodland Hills, CA. Mr Levine taught 7th grade history. OK, I know that everyone in the world hates history, but I never did, and I still don't. I love it. I think one of the reasons I love it so much would be Mr Levine. He made history come alive in a way that you so rarely see in teachers.

Mr Levine was young, probably in his early 30's when I had him. He was married to Mrs Levine, the French teacher, who was as mean as he was nice. We had endless conversations about how those two got together, as they were just so damn different.

Mr Levine was slight of build, with shiney black hair and a pale face. He used to wear short sleeved oxford shirts and sansabelt type pants. This was before dockers became popular for teachers, I guess. He was classically ADHD. I mean, this was a man that never stopped moving. He jumped up on desks when he got excited, he roared out lines in foreign accents, and he talked a blue streak. For most kids, Mr Levine was interesting because you never knew what he was going to do next. He had radical ideas way back in the 60's. He taught us about women in history, and about the poor and how poverty affected the politics of a country. He introduced us to the music and food and art of the historical times. But all of those were just small tidbits compared to what he did twice a year in his history classes.

Mr Levine held mock trials. The first mock trial of the year was Napoleon. The kids all chose parts (I was Marie Antoinette and got to say "Let them eat cake") and prepared an entire trial for poor Napoleon. We had juries and lawyers and witnesses and the trial lasted for days. It was a type of experiential learning that had never been done before in my experience, and it was breathtaking in getting kids involved and informed. We learned so much about the French that we started speaking in pseudo French accents. We yelled "Guillotine" to each other in the hallway. This was history that was unforgettable.

The second mock trial was Hitler. This wasn't quite a fun as Napoleon, primarily because my school was filled to the brim with Jewish students, many of whom were the children or grandchildren of survivors. It was way too close to so many of us, and we took on the assignment with a grimness, knowing that we were going to learn more than we probably wanted to know. One of the witnesses was a boy's father who had liberated Auschwitz and had albums of photos he had taken of the liberation. This man then served on the Nurenberg Trials as a witness. He was too authentic in a way, especially for 7th graders, but Mr Levine made sure that it was not only palatible, but was the learning experience of a lifetime. There is much I have forgotten about my childhood, but I still remember this witness's full name.

Mr Levine was a small man with a huge place in my memory. He brought history to life in a way that made me go on to become a history teacher myself. He believed that every kid on every part of the bell curve could have a part in participating in making history come alive. He helped each of us to find our own talents, our own skills, and built our self-esteem by allowing us to delve into history in a way that few kids were ever allowed to do.

I have no clue what happened to Mr Levine. I moved on to high school and then left California. I've thought of him often, and if there was some way to let him know how much his class affected me, I'd like him to know that, too.

My brother and I both were so lucky to have Mr Levine.
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