“Be willing to dance with ambiguity, and live with a longing/yearning for more” In her eloquent opening speech, Janet Hartwell, Head of School, laid out the type of student that Greens Farms Academy’s teachers are aiming to shape. Her words brought me quickly back to a conversation I had with Anne Reynaud, MS French and Spanish. Over the summer Mlle Reynaud decided to do a cultural immersion program in Panama where she spent her days with local families, doing service work, and studying the language in context.
Mlle Reynaud did what most would consider “giving up” free time in the pursuit of knowledge and to ameliorate her own skills so she might be a better teacher. Rather, Anne sees it as using her free time to continue filling that yearning for more, and she plans to continue that pursuit in another exchange next summer.
Only a few days later, I discovered that Griffen Stabler, MS English and 8th grade dean, has been using his summers to do a master in English with Bread Loaf at Middlebury College. In his own words Griffen Stabler describes his experiences at Bread Loaf, a program for people who would like to continue teaching during the year. Here are some of his own descriptions of his experiences at the end of his second summer.
It’s basically like summer camp for adult English nerds. You take two classes from world-class professors visiting from all over the country … They have campfires with poetry and fiction readings, themed Barn Dances, trips to town, basically all the stuff you’d do at a summer camp except instead of being thirteen, you’re twenty-seven and supposedly all grown-up. The fact that you’re surrounded by some of the smartest people around who share your love of books is the cherry on top. Knowing that at any moment you can ask someone what they’re reading and spend the next hour talking about your favorite books is a pretty unusual thing. I can’t think of a better place to spend 6 weeks of my summer. It has made me a better person and a better teacher. While all this may sound pretty hyperbolic, it truly is a special place. There’s none of the competition or negativity that sometimes pervades other top-tier academic programs. People are happy to be there and most are teachers, so you can compare war stories from the classroom and pick up new strategies and techniques to bring home to your own classroom. In short, it’s the best. I had a blast and can’t wait to get back there next summer. In the meantime, I’m excited to bring everything I learned back to GFA to share with my students.
Much like Anne, Griffin has chosen to put himself in a place where he can broaden his knowledge base and even reevaluate his teaching style.
Our final summer spotlight is Erin Thorkilsen, LS Kindergarden took advantage of her summer to be immersed in the culture of the Maasai people in Kenya. Erin set out to make her experience into a single unit but found that her time spent with these people and student led to a much deeper understanding of respect and sharing. Erin writes,
What was most inspiring was the high level of respect that permeated the community. Children showed constant respect for their elders, elders loved and honored the children, and everyone deeply respected the earth and their surroundings. Everything was shared; many children at school shared one pencil for 5 students, ripped up a piece of paper so there would be enough for everyone, and even would break up a banana so there was enough for everyone in the village. I’m looking forward to speaking about the Maasai on a daily basis with the kindergarten, sharing the stories of my experience, to instill the same kindness and respect in our community.
Erin took herself far from her comfort zone in pursuit of a new understanding about the world. Not only for personal growth, but to take that growth into our school’s daily life.
At the end of the World Perspectives Symposium last spring, Andrew Jones, US English and 10th grade dean, stated that the expansion of perspective must begin closer to home than we realize, that the space behind the eyes and ears that we call the mind must continue to grow and have new experiences. The accomplishments of these faculty members are only the tip of the iceberg, and I feel fortunate to be part of a team where our goal is not only to instill a curiosity for the unknown, but also to continue in its pursuit.
And more to come…
-Rebekah Skoog, US French
*Special thanks to those who shared their experiences with me.