Richard Kerridge, History Subject Advisor
I first heard Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’ speech in 2001 while I was on my second teacher training placement. I knew who he was and the impact he’d made, but it wasn’t until then that I really listened to what he said. That speech sent shivers down my spine.
This blog is not the place for an in-depth analysis of the many achievements of MLK. Instead, I am going to tell you a story of the impact this speech had on one student I was lucky enough to teach, and remind you that your words and actions, as teachers, sometimes have considerable consequences.
I was teaching at one of Cambridge’s city centre schools and was tasked with teaching four lessons of PSHE/Citizenship on the subject of racism to a Year 9 group. I turned to the beauty and desire of the ‘Dream’ speech. I listened to it properly and was struck by the imagery it contained. I could see the speech and I thought the students would be able to as well. We listened to the speech and each student chose a line or two as their own.
They had to produce a drawing, painting or similar to represent the imagery conjured by MLK. I put these images over the speech so as we listened for the final time our images would be shown while the speech played. Ground-breaking technology in 2001! We also showed this to a whole-school assembly.
As this was a PSHE lesson there was no pressure to come up with lesson objectives and I was able to let the discussions go wherever they wanted; a rare luxury I know. Students engaged with each other in conversations about race, civil rights, equality and plain decency in a mature way. Had I tried to push activities or for certain outcomes I don’t think this would have happened.
One piece of artwork stood out from the rest of the class, not just for its actual artistic ability, but because the student had beautifully captured the spirit of the speech as well as the despair in the lack of progress between then and, what was, now (2001). Over the lessons I could see this shy boy grow in confidence, so much so that he led the assembly. Afterwards he presented the drawing to me and thanked me for the lessons and the opportunity to participate. He thanked me!
It was the first time a student thanked me for my lessons. This stayed with me throughout my teaching career and from that moment on, I have always thought of him whenever a student has thanked me. The student went on to study at various universities and now has a PhD. His interest? Civil rights and equality. And he says it all started in that lesson. Never underestimate the impact you have on your students.
It is no surprise that in our History A Level, Unit Y319 (Civil Rights in the USA 1865–1992), is one of our largest. If you want to find out more about it, take a look at our specification (pages 99 to 100).
What will you do to celebrate the life and legacy of this amazing man? Will you take a break in your normal teaching for a celebratory lesson? I expect some of you will be leading an assembly. Whatever you do, enjoy the day and continue being excellent role models for our young people.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at history@OCR.org.uk, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_History. You can also sign up for subject updates with the latest news, updates and resources.
Richard joined Cambridge International Assessment in September 2019 and OCR in October 2022. Before joining OCR he taught history for seventeen years. He was a Deputy Head of Sixth Form, Head of Humanities, SSAT Lead Practitioner as well as writing and contributing to text books and exam-board resources. He has presented at the Historical Association and Schools History Project Annual Conferences and for Keynote Education. Richard is very proud to be an Honorary Fellow of the Historical Association. He enjoys being surrounded by his family, friends and two dogs.