Tell us about a class achievement.
In the fall of 2005, when Rosa Parks died, I read a newspaper article about Elizabeth Jennings, an African-American New Yorker who had helped to integrate mass transit in our city in the 1850s—100 years before Parks. I told my students about her, and they were eager to teach other New Yorkers about this important, but little-known, resident. After a lengthy process including writing and performing a play, writing letters to city officials, petitioning New Yorkers, and attending community board meetings, my students were able to persuade the City Council to co-name a street for Jennings. In June 2007, we unveiled the street sign for Elizabeth Jennings Place, the block of Park Row between Spruce and Beekman Streets.
What is your favorite book?
I really enjoy reading Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson out loud to my students. It’s full of extremely silly characters and ridiculous plot lines like the theft of a barometer, yet kids (and adults) can always relate to it. It’s goofy and whimsical but still sophisticated and even profound.
What is your favorite school trip?
I love to take kids to Inwood Hill Park in upper Manhattan. This is the closest possible experience to seeing what Manhattan was like in 1609, when Lenapes had been living here for centuries but Europeans and Africans had not yet arrived. The city is an amazing place to grow up, but it’s also wonderful seeing city kids run through the forest, notice birds and insects they’ve never noticed before, and imagine how they would survive in such a place. Once we even saw a snake!
What is your favorite teaching method?
I love doing role plays of historical events. We role-play everything from the first meetings of Europeans and Native Americans, to the British and the Americans arguing over the tea tax. Kids get totally immersed in their characters and gain a new understanding of the motivations of different people in important historical moments.
What is your favorite tradition at your school?
Every Friday morning we have Community Meeting. Different classes present performances and then we all sing a few of our “school songs”: a mixture of silly songs, civil rights songs, and everything in between. At the end we sing each class out of the auditorium with our goodbye song, and everyone leaves truly feeling like a part of a larger community.
What is the best quotation you’ve heard from a student?
This year a child said to me, in all earnestness, “Is it too late to change the world?” I think that sometimes kids feel overwhelmed by all of the problems in the world, and we have to help them feel optimistic—not in an unrealistic way, but we have to help them see themselves as part of the solution.
Miriam Sicherman was recently awarded an Honorable Mention in the Lands' End "Teachers Light the Way" contest.