5 minute read

Connections - Fall 2019

Becca Archambault ‘16 with Horizons students.

Sarah Keffer ‘17

When the Students Become the Teachers

By Jessica More

Attracting bright and passionate young people to the field of education is more important than ever. In a March 2019 study, the Economic Policy Institute reported that there is a significant (and growing) shortage of qualified teachers in the United States, especially in low-income areas. Every year, fewer and fewer students enroll in teacher-preparation programs nationwide, 33% fewer, in fact, between 2010 and 2017 according to Title II National Teacher Preparation Data.

EA’s Horizons program began in 2013 and has helped stem the “summer slide” for hundreds of lower and middle school-aged students. It has also given many EA student-volunteers an opportunity to see firsthand the impact they can have through a career in teaching. “Horizons provides valuable, real-world experience that shows students the joys, rewards, and impact of a teaching career,” said Horizons at EA Executive Director Kathy Jacoby P ‘13 ‘15 ‘19.

Becca Archambault ’16 is a senior education major at Vanderbilt University and was a rising junior when she first volunteered with Horizons at EA. Becca recalled the powerful connection she felt that first summer with the Horizons students; “I got to work with two of the smartest 2nd graders that I’d ever met. But the amount of rejection they experienced in school, it really touched me. I thought, ‘How could they be this smart and have people push them down so much to the point where they don’t think they’re bright?’ Those two boys were the reason I kept coming back each summer.”

When her family moved, Becca began volunteering at a Horizons program in a rural area of Maryland. In the town of 500, Becca found that rural schools suffer from the same problems as urban schools. She has continued to work with Horizons while in college.

Sarah Keffer ’17 was also introduced to teaching by volunteering for Horizons. Currently in her junior year in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Sarah is studying educational policy and political science. Her middle school soccer coach, Horizons at EA Program Director Rowena Lesher, encouraged her to help out with Horizons, and she has been in love with teaching ever since.

“Originally, I resisted teaching because my mom is a teacher at EA.” Sarah’s mother, Alison Keffer, Hon., teaches 3rd grade in the Lower School. “But, when I came back to Horizons for a visit after high school, I was so touched that the students remembered me, running down the hallway to hug me. I returned to BC that fall and immediately transferred to the School of Education. These kids inspire me when they come to school with so much energy, joy, and desire to learn.”

Sarah and Becca both are glad to have had the opportunity to explore teaching as a career option through volunteer work. “The field of teaching is one of the most authentic opportunities to work alongside young minds and grow their natural abilities in encouraging ways,” said Lesher. “Our six-week summer program serves as not only a setting for seasoned teachers to grow professionally, but for young people interested in the field to receive mentorship and hands-on experience in an intimate classroom size setting.”

But to follow their hearts and build careers in teaching, both Becca and Sarah have found that significant challenges may lie ahead. “You don’t understand how exhausting it is until you spend a day teaching,” Becca said. “A big misconception is that teachers get a degree and they’re done, but there’s so much continuous learning that they need to do.”

Sarah agreed. “The first thing people say to me is ‘you’re going to make no money.’ Or they think teaching is so easy, that you just give them a coloring book. But I am so fortunate that my parents are supportive of me picking a fulfilling career for myself. I’m comfortable knowing that this is what makes me incredibly happy, and the rest I can work with.”

Becca shared, “I had a professor who told us, ‘to be a bad teacher is easy, to be a great teacher is the hardest job in the world.’” Becca recognizes the importance of reaching every student differently, knowing that each comes to the classroom with separate and distinct strengths, weaknesses, cultural backgrounds, and home lives. She spent a semester teaching first grade in South Africa, where she had 35 children in her class. One girl spoke no English, and teachers thought she was not able to count, either. After Becca sat with her for a while, she realized the girl, in fact, did know how to count, but did not know that was what she was being asked to do. Without the small class sizes to focus on individual students’ needs, many children can struggle to learn foundational skills like reading, writing, and basic mathematics.

Having the time to give one-on-one attention is just the beginning, though, because teachers need to know how to motivate and encourage each child differently, according to their learning styles. To help their teachers meet the specific needs of low-income students, Horizons provides several trainings, including one from the organization Ramapo for Children. “The Ramapo training helped us identify each student’s behavioral issues and see them instead as strengths that can be used to motivate them,” shared Sarah.

" Horizons provides valuable, real-world experience that shows students the joys, rewards, and impact of a teaching career."

For example, over the summer, Sarah had a student who was boisterous, and rambunctious, and who tended to boss the other children around. This student siphoned off a lot of the teacher’s energy and attention. Using what she had learned in training, Sarah began to see this student as a natural leader, who could be given tasks in the classroom to help focus her energy in constructive ways. “Giving her tasks to be a leader,” Sarah said, “I saw her blossom in that role.”

“We are so delighted that both Sarah and Becca were inspired by their experience to explore teaching as a career choice,” said Jacoby. Lesher agreed, sharing, “Both Becca and Sarah share a special adoration for children, and we are so fortunate that our students were on the receiving end.”

As national statistics demonstrate, our schools need more teachers who have the passion and compassion necessary to go the extra mile, put in the extra hours, and stay current in their teaching practice to make each day a successful day in the classroom.

Now, as part of the community of teachers, Becca sees her own EA teachers differently. “There’s a reason why many of EA’s teachers gave up their careers in the private sector to teach,” Becca says. “They have so much love for their students. I finally understand now how much they cared for us and how much planning they have to do every single day to stay at the cutting edge of the developments in teaching.”