ATA Magazine

The story of teaching

Lesson in history becomes a key to the future

Records, headphones hammers and music notes on a green background.

The challenge

As the new “kid,” how to connect with students who’ve spent their entire lives together. 

My Grade 12 history teacher was one of my favourites and a role model for me as I became a teacher. He asked us to identify a political song and to break down the lyrics into an analysis of its time. I picked a late Cold War era song, “Put Down That Weapon” by Midnight Oil.  

“I started to get to know my students and they got to know more about themselves too.”

Jump ahead a few years, and my education adventure sees me in the Peace Country and a small rural school with two multigrade classrooms: the Big Room and the Little Room. I taught in the Big Room.  

Small schools like this are really just an extended family. I, however, was the newly adopted kid. I was the only one the students didn’t know, and I didn’t know them. I assigned a variation from my Grade 12 history class a few years earlier. Instead of asking upper elementary and junior high students to break down anti-war anthems, I asked them to dig into their own catalogues. I wanted to get to know them in their space through their music.  

Through that activity, I started to get to know my students, and, interestingly, these children who grew up in such a small community, many knowing each other since birth, got to know a bit more about themselves too. I like to think that the activity allowed them to get to know a bit about their new teacher too, as I also picked a song to present to them (I’m pretty sure I picked “The River” by Garth Brooks). 

I reached out to some former students to see if they had any recollections they could share, and this activity was mentioned by someone who is now a teacher herself. Her song was “4am” by Our Lady Peace.  

“I loved hearing everyone’s song choices, and you made us feel like our selections were so wise,” she said. “I felt like I was able to be myself, with all that preteen angst. Great lesson.”  

A few years ago when I came across my Grade 12 history teacher, I told him how I morphed his political song activity into something a bit different. From one teacher, passed on to another and then on to another. It really is the story of teaching. 

Got an idea?

Maybe you created a lesson that totally flopped or were on the receiving end of a lesson that was truly inspiring. Whatever your story, please summarize it in up to 300 words and email it to managing editor Cory Hare at


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