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Grooming Future Educators

This past school year, several seniors have been busy studying how to emulate their teachers.

They’ve been exploring how teachers teach and students learn, learning how to build relationships with students and investigating critical issues affecting the quality of education in America’s schools. 

It’s all part of an effort to provide a true feel for what it’s like to be an educator through the new Art and Science of Teaching.

Led by Lower School Assistant Head Erin Harper and Technology Director and Upper School English teacher Matt Scully, Art and Science of Teaching is a blended and experiential learning course modeled after South Carolina’s Teacher Cadets program, which encourages high school students to consider and pursue teaching careers.

“The course explores in depth what it means to be a teacher and how to effectively work with students,” said Scully. “It is our hope that one day we will be hiring one of our teacher cadets to become the next master teacher at PDS.”

But even for students who opt to pursue other careers, the course provides valuable lessons.

“Understanding how to provide instruction to others in a productive and effective manner helps in all professions, not just teaching,” explained Harper.


Constructive Curriculum

From his time in education in South Carolina, Dr. Glyn Cowlishaw, Head of School, was familiar with the Teacher Cadets program and felt it worth investigating as a potential PDS course. Harper and Scully attended curriculum training at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and then tailored a class specific to PDS.

“We brought it to PDS because we had students interested in pursuing education in college,” said Harper. “The assignments and documentation our seniors are starting to accumulate from the course can be used as tools when applying to their perspective schools of education.”

The class of seven seniors meets formally once a week, with the rest of the time spent working on projects and participating in hands-on activities that explore the various aspects of teaching. Those aspects include self awareness and reflection, styles and needs of learners, lesson planning, human growth and development, improvisation, classroom management, ethics and professionalism.

For Kyra Swartz, who is eyeing an education career, most likely as a kindergarten teacher, the course has been beneficial.

“I want to learn how to be a better teacher and gain insight through working with students directly in a classroom setting,” she said. “I want experience and knowledge that I can take with me and utilize as I continue my path toward a career in education,” she said.

“And I knew taking this course would help me improve my teaching and leadership skills before going to college to get a degree in education,” she added.

The seniors earn one credit hour from PDS and three credit hours from nearby Queens University, with whom PDS has partnered for the course.

Over the last few months, the seniors have attended workshops and worked with Queens instructors at both PDS and the university. They have also met with Queens Cato School of Education Fellows, who demonstrated teaching techniques, answered questions about their college experiences and instructed them on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

“I loved going to Queens University and learning from their education majors,” said Kyra. “It was really interesting to see what education classes looked like at the college level.”

Taking the Lead

The seniors also have received instruction from PDS faculty and counselors.

  They interviewed a number of PDS teachers — including 1st-grade teacher Joanne Compton and Upper and Middle School teacher Roberta McKaig, both of whom have taught at PDS since the 1970s, and Upper School math teacher Jeff Lucia and Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs Derrick Willard — as part of the course’s “education then and now” project.

The students also received training from Lower School reading specialist Amy Iverson on how to conduct an “interactive read aloud,” a strategic exercise of reading to students to gauge comprehension and other information, and then used the new skill to work with 2nd-graders.

The activity inspired one of Kyra’s individual projects in December, in which she conducted interactive read alouds in 5th-, 8th- and 12-grade classrooms using the children’s book So Much in Common by Laurie A. Jacobs.

“I read the story to all the grades and asked them questions about it that pertained to both the comprehension of the story and application of its morals,” said Kyra. “Through this project, I was able to see the cognitive differences between grades as well as see how much the sense of community in a classroom impacts students.”

Jordan Sienkowski’s December project took him to the basketball court, where he and classmate Sam Lahn assisted with coaching two recreational league basketball teams comprised of PDS 6th-grade boys.

“It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work and time commitment,” recalled Jordan. “We had two practices a week in the Mosack Athletic Center, every Monday and Wednesday, and a game on Saturdays” through early February.

While Jordan aspires to a career of coaching as opposed to teaching, he found the course taught him how to work with adolescents in any setting.

“I can definitely see myself someday coaching at some level, and gaining the experience of coaching an organized team was something I knew I would really enjoy,” he said.

The course “doesn’t feel like school” to Kyra, because she’s getting to do something she loves.

“Not many people my age can say that they’ve found their passion,” she said. “This course has been amazing.”

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