I learned on my Summer Vacation
five minutes before class, and the teachers are getting nervous.
pace through the Perkins Geology Museum, lingering for a few seconds in
front of the Charlotte Whale skeleton or the fossilized dinosaur footprints,
then moving on. The tension builds until someone finally speaks.
anyone finish the reading?
I tried, but I couldnt get through it too dense.
am so glad you said that! I understood nothing. I kept going back to the
lesson i: When teachers return to school, they act like their students
just without the Pokemon obsession.
Having teachers act like students in reality, letting them become
students for a few days is the mission of Teachers as Scholars,
a nationwide professional development program that began at Harvard in
1996 and debuted at UVM last year. Teachers as Scholars connects teachers
from eight Vermont districts with some of UVMs best professors to
explore ideas in intensive seminars. The idea is that teachers became
teachers because they love to learn, and that by continuing to learn themselves,
they will stay in touch with the enthusiasm that brought them to the profession.
inspire learning, you need to be inspired to learn, says Rosalind
Andreas, associate dean of the College of Education and Social Services
and coordinator of the program. This program helps teachers renew
their excitement for teaching and discover new resources. One teacher
told me that its like a spa for the mind.
Unlike most teacher workshops, TAS doesnt instruct teachers in how
to teach or provide new lessons. The idea is to hurl educators of all
grades and subjects into a college-level seminar for a few days and let
them grapple with difficult ideas. The classes have covered everything
from short stories to contemporary ethics to the Book of Genesis. The
topics may not translate directly to the classroom, but thats not
the point. TAS is really about getting teachers fired up to learn
and having them bring that fire back to their school.
When teachers can learn without pressure, they become more engaged,
and that spills over into the classroom, says Andreas. I have
never seen teachers be so positive about a program.
ii: A learning teacher is a happy teacher is a good teacher.
On this rainy July morning, ten teachers are preparing to tackle The
Ecology and Geology of the Lake Champlain Basin with UVM professors
Jack Drake and Charlotte Mehrtens. The seminar is designed to help teachers
interpret Vermonts geological history by immersing them in it over
three days of fieldwork. After gathering in the museum, the teachers file
into the van that will take them to Allen Hill, a beautiful spot at the
southern end of Shelburne Bay, where they will create a geologic map of
Allen Hill is one of the geology departments greatest hits. For
decades, students and faculty have measured almost every pebble of this
evocative spot where Vermonts geologic past is laid bare. But Mehrtens
and Drake dont sound jaded. Standing lakeside on a red slab of Monkton
quartzite, the same flashy stuff used to construct Redstone Hall, they
enthusiastically point out the surface scratches on the rock, still-visible
evidence of the path a glacier took when it receded from here 20,000 years
ago, driving the process that created Lake Champlain as we know it.
Wed normally spend three weeks on this survey, but this group
today can finish in one day starts Drake.
Because were teachers, interrupts Susan Plunkett-Dunning
73 G76, a middle-school teacher from Essex Junction.
iii: A teacher, sufficiently determined, can do anything.
With that, the teachers are off, taking to the field with considerably
more enthusiasm than they tackled readings like A Manual of Field
Hydrogeology. They beat through brush and scrabble along the shoreline.
They break off samples with pickaxes and test their composition with acid.
They scowl into loupes to determine the composition, and approximate age,
of rocks. This is great, this is just what kids like to do,
says Trip Westcott, a teacher from Pittsford, as he scratches notations
on his map. The challenge is to think about how to do it with my
and Drake maintain a constant stream of information and patter as the
class progresses. Drake likens the calcium-heavy rock underlying much
of the area to a giant Tums. Mehrtens hails Jell-O as a teaching
aid placed in a pan and tilted, it provides a rough simulation
of ancient rock movements. Im big on Jell-O! she says,
as two elementary teachers scribble notes about the technique.
the afternoon and the rest of the seminar, the teachers are students again.
Dream students who embrace the subject and crowd around Mehrtens and Drake
to pepper them with questions and observations.
Im impressed with the group, says Drake. Im
learning from them.
they work, the teachers trade shop talk about kids and contracts and summer
plans, but most of the conversation is either about the geologic minutiae
covered in the seminar or how to simplify it for kids. As she and
a partner map a glacial path with a clinometer, Bristol Elementary teacher
Nilene Farnsworth 72 G89 thinks pragmatically about what it
would take to do similar fieldwork with her class. Parent volunteers,
she murmurs, drawing a line on her map and imagining a future classroom
unit. With this equipment, wed need lots of parent volunteers
and small groups.
Some, like Farnsworth and Westcott, plan to make direct use of the seminar
in their classrooms. Others, like Lee Lichtenstein, who teaches math and
science to middle-schoolers in Westford, hope to use the material in class,
but value the indirect benefits of TAS even more. Its not
so much that continuing to learn is important for me as a teacher, its
that its important to me as a person, says Lichtenstein.
Other teachers point out that the experience of being stretched by new
material (TAS participants are encouraged to take seminars in any subject,
and the seminars are designed to be challenging but accessible to those
without a background in the topic), reminds teachers of what some of their
students go through.
Im getting a firsthand sense of how to approach a subject
when you know absolutely nothing about it, says Wendy Jenkins, a
reading teacher at the Fleming School in Essex Junction.
That role reversal, and the complex understanding it can bring, is a strength
of TAS. Another is the example for students that having teachers eagerly
attend voluntary classes sets. An intrinsic part of teaching is
modeling lifelong learning, says Mary Dee, an elementary school
teacher in Burlington. Now the kids can look at me and say, Mrs.
Dee may be older, but she goes back to school.
lesson iv: Do as I say, not as I do is not the way great teachers