This will be my twenty-ninth-year teaching and I still get butterflies in my stomach on the first day of school. I am consumed by nerves, anxiety, the thought of what more I need to do to be ready for the beginning of the school year. What should be taught, how it should be assessed, how to handle time constraints yet meet standards are the types of questions I, and frankly all educators, ponder as I lay out my courses. Fortunately, as a Holocaust educator, I feel empowered to meet these challenges thanks to the world class content and pedagogy I learned this summer at the 2023 Echoes & Reflections Advanced Learning Seminar. I am grateful that I was one of thirty talented educators selected from the United States to study for ten days at the International School For Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem with the purpose of improving our Holocaust education practice.
The power of the program is founded on its design, starting with the setting. Held at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, the program put us at the heart of Holocaust education with firsthand documents and accounts within arm’s reach. Added to the setting was the privilege to learn and collaborate with a fantastic cohort of educators from diverse backgrounds and experiences, each with a passion for Holocaust education. We learned from experts, including some of the best scholars in the world, a charismatic rabbi, and the last active Nazi Hunter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The seminar was intense, but managed well, carefully organized, and systematic in its approach. Each day was integrated with content from Echoes & Reflections teaching Units and lesson plans, to complement presentations from experts in the field”. Within the 45-acre campus of Yad Vashem, we were given personalized tours of the Holocaust History Museum, the Valley of the Communities, , the Holocaust Art Museum, the Yad Vashem Archives, and the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, to name a few. Beyond the walls of Yad Vashem, we met Holocaust survivors in their home, had an inspiring, guided tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, and an unforgettable day trip to the Dead Sea and Masada.
Having described my experiences at Yad Vashem, I want to reflect on the impact they had on me as a life-long learner and teacher. For teachers, great professional development fills our cups and benefits student learning and outcomes. Coming away with something that can be implemented in the classroom immediately is my primary barometer of good professional development. We are always learning something; the key is what we will do with this knowledge. As a result of this Seminar, I aim to be more intentional about lifting people up when I teach the Holocaust, deemphasizing much of the darkness I focused on earlier in my career. Though I was well intentioned when I taught about the Nazi years, including the process of dehumanizing Jews and the sheer numbers of Jews and others murdered in Europe, I now plan on spending more energy contextualizing this important part of Jewish history, letting students know what life was like for ordinary people who happened to be Jewish. They were people with brothers, sisters, uncles, classmates, and teammates and they had hobbies and dreams. I hope to lift the voices and share the stories about these people and their memories. My students need to understand that antisemitism did not start with the Nazis; they need to know that it goes back two millennium, that this is the longest hatred we know, and to be mindful of how it festers today. They need to examine this history and the many choices that were made and understand the cost of letting down our guard to bigotry, fear, and hatred.
This vision of student outcomes that are inspiring and mobilizing is what permeates my preparation this year. What I learned in the Echoes & Reflections Advanced Learning Seminar is crucial to students at this moment and in this country. Never forget.
About the author: Bradley E. Sultz is a proud teacher and advocate of public education and teaches at iPrep Academy, a highly recognized school in Miami, Florida. Bradley teaches AP Psychology, AP World History: Modern, Honors World History, AP Macroeconomics, and Honors Economics and is an AP World History: Modern Reader for the College Board, an AP World History: Modern Teacher Trainer and Teacher Mentor for Miami-Dade County Public Schools (the third largest school district in the country), and a Holocaust Education Advocate.