As a history teacher, some of the essential questions I ask my students to consider are: How do people identify and express themselves culturally and intellectually? How does the movement of people affect the world? Why do some things change while others stay the same?
I’ve considered these questions personally as well. Living in another culture forces you to address your values. Coming to a new school does the same. I had left New England to teach in Paraguay and then in Trinidad and Tobago, but last October I made the decision to return home to the US from my job at the International School of Port of Spain.
I knew it would be hard to step away from exciting travel opportunities and exploration; even so I welcomed the opportunity to develop longer term relationships, to reestablish a sense of home, to feel safe and to refocus my career. Starting over in a new place every two years has kept me on my toes in some ways but I was not necessarily being personally professionally challenged or developed.
When I thought about going back to public schools similar to where I had worked in Massachusetts, I worried about returning to standardized tests, budget cuts, layoffs and never-ending changes to my state’s social studies curriculum frameworks. I had heard independent schools might be the answer. I started a search with pretty wide parameters, considering anywhere I could realistically find most of what I was looking for: opportunity to be creative, free from the restrictions and limitations one might face in public school, but with the safety and stability of life in the US.
I had interviewed with schools in the east and west and decided to use my last two personal days to visit Randolph and check out Huntsville, Alabama. It wasn’t what I imagined.
The “Portrait of an 8th grader” on the School’s website caught my attention. I liked what I saw in terms of valuing independent learners with integrity who are respectful of others, who work collaboratively and individually, and who are responsible for and reflective about their learning.
It’s been clear, since that first visit, that Middle Schoolers value their school, are proud to go here, speak well of their head of school, the mission statement, and the opportunities offered. When I came to interview I taught a lesson. A group of 6th graders participated actively in an Indian Ocean Trading Game simulation designed for 9th graders. They were competitive, enthusiastic, and asked to do the activity twice to improve their scores! I was impressed, that on their way out of the room, some were brainstorming ways to turn the simulation into a website where the same concept could incorporate interest rates and historically related events and products!
I was thrilled to see the reality when I interviewed. Randolph is, and continuously seeks to be, all that it claims it is. Randolph reflects on its practice, the way I do mine. I found the position I was looking for here at this school.
My work with 6th graders is student-centered and driven by their interests. My students have learned to use essential questions to frame their research and make predictions and connections about other civilizations and our world today. The new schedule next year will give us even more time to reflect on how we learn best and to focus on understanding.
I arrived in Huntsville about 10 days before school started and moved into my apartment. I was excited to have a car and a puppy, but not prepared to wait so long to get settled. As a New Englander, I didn’t really understand what it meant to live in the South until I started telling people my movers still hadn’t delivered my things after days and then weeks. Three co-workers invited me to their guest rooms. Another took me and my virtually untrained puppy to her cabin for a weekend. Two showed up at my place with a bed, pillow, sheets and blankets, assembled the bed and made it while I looked on in disbelief. I had the warmest welcome I’ve ever received from my students and their parents.
I had my first real taste of Southern cooking when a parent delivered Thanksgiving lunch for all of her children’s teachers. The sense of community here continues to impress me. Sign-up sheets to deliver meals to families in need of care fill up for months in less than 24 hours!
After school, I take my puppy, Gibbs, for walks where I can be outside enjoying the four seasons I’ve missed so much. We can walk to the greenway or drive five minutes to his favorite swimming ponds. On the weekends we have more options at Hays Nature Preserve, Monte Sano, and Creekwood Park and Greenway in Madison. On the weekends, we’ve also ventured to Chattanooga and enjoyed the dog bakery, battlefields and the Walnut Street Bridge. Now we’re looking forward to camping in Kentucky, hiking in Mississippi and catching a concert in Nashville for my birthday.
I love to cook and Huntsville has lots of options for fresh local produce. The Greene Street Market was my first adventure out of the apartment after moving. It became a regular outing where we could meet other dog people and I could be exposed to new veggies and farmers’ suggestions for their preparation.
In terms of my professional development, I am consistently offered quality opportunities. Some are driven by faculty interests, with groups led by peers. I am also part of a Lifelong Learning Community, a small group that meets regularly to explore teaching strategies, professional philosophies, and best practices; we work together with the understanding that our combined knowledge and experience will improve teaching and learning in our individual classrooms. We also had a great summer book, Brain Rules, that we discussed at the start of the year and our inservice speaker was psychologist Rob Evans – a great way to kick off the year.
I’m just back from a Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco about “Using brain Science to Ignite Innovation and Imagination.” I brought back ideas about motivation, stress, creativity and encouraging student talents for advisory lessons and working with specific students that I look forward to sharing with my team and others.
Intellectually and culturally, I am enjoying this year more than I could have imagined. I have made friends, who’ve almost become family, and have found a school that is a good fit. I’m ready to start house hunting this spring. I am looking forward to my first backyard and a kitchen where I can cook for my friends. For now, essentially, it’s Sweet Home Alabama.