When Fox Chapel Area High School teacher Jennifer Klein watched the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., she brought her advanced placement government and politics students with her — via Twitter.
“As a government teacher, I couldn’t be more excited,” she said before boarding a bus to the nation's capital the day before the Jan. 28 address. Mrs. Klein accepted the White House invitation and began a plan to use the social media outlet where she submitted her 140-word application to teach in real time.
“One of my goals was to directly engage my students," she said. Her students were instructed to Tweet questions they would like answered to make the experience a learning experience for her and her students.
When she joined the other 60 social media followers who had been selected to attend from among more than 1,000 applicants, she found at least 10 teachers in the group. She said they came from as far away as Vermont and Minnesota and all were government teachers like her.
As the president spoke, Mrs. Klein and her students exchanged Tweets, sharing insights and questions with one another as she watched from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building auditorium.
Mrs. Klein also attended a panel discussion with administration officials after the event. Before the speech, she went on a public tour of the White House and witnessed a congressional hearing in the Capital Building. “Every minute of Tuesday was amazing,” she said.
The congressional hearing was a joint subcommittee hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, which Mrs. Klein said the president referenced in his speech. She also met Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.
When Mrs. Klein returned to school last Thursday, she and her senior students engaged in a more in-depth discussion during classes. “It was fun connecting with my students,” she said. “Some had never watched a State of the Union speech before. In some cases, their whole family watched it together.
“The best part was reading their tweets and seeing how the president’s words connected with with students back at Fox Chapel,” Mrs. Klein said.
Among the student tweets:
“Hmm, a little disappointed there were only mentions of Ukraine and mental health, would have like some more information.” — senior Annette Kukunas.
"Obama should consider shortening unemployment benefits. Nobody has incentive to work.” — Patrick Sheerer.
“Does the president choose his own outfit or does he have fashion consultants? Because I am digging the tie.” — Samuel Waxman.
And while her students’ Tweets ran the gamut from the mundane to the provocative and from agreement to disagreement, Mrs. Klein said it was apparent when she returned that her experience interested both current and past students as well as fellow teachers.
"I am very thankful for the opportunity to go to Washington," she said. "It was an amazing experience and I’ll always be able to apply that to my teaching.”
Rita Michel, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.