What kind of background and life experiences have you drawn on in teaching here at IHM school?
My high school aspiration was to be a physics teacher. After graduating from Saint Michel's College with a teaching degree I was appointed head teacher of a small private school while working towards my master's degree. I moved to Massachusetts when I got married and was lucky enough to be vice president of 2 small computer companies and finally the director of computing. I was responsible for all the computers in the entire town, but my favorite task was training staff in the various departments.
I left the workforce in 1996 to homeschool my children only to reenter when they had gone off to college. The Winchester School District needed tutors, and I spent three years there tutoring special needs and “problem” students. This is my first year at IHM.
With your teaching background have you done some things that are unique here at IHM that most schools wouldn't have tried?
Yes. I have found that a monologue typically will not keep the children's attention for any length of time. With this in mind, I have set up the classroom in a more open format. There is give and take with the students, and the pace keeps them engaged and interested in the material. Since I teach science, there are plenty of opportunities for experiments. We generally have at least three experiments each week, and many times we take mini field trips outside or to another building to perform them.
Literature is another subject that I teach, and while reading the books is fine, this is really only the starting point. With the open format we can discuss what is happening to the characters, what is happening to the society in general, and we also talk a little about the historical background of the time. This keeps the children interested in the topic, and it gives them a better appreciation for the piece we are reading.
One thing I emphasise is that what we are studying has practical applications to everyday life. If we are learning about thermal energy, I might demonstrate cooking food in a pressure cooker, microwave, convection oven, and conventional ovens. My students not only know how a flashlight works but can build a useable shake flashlight. In literature, we often relate what is happening with the characters to what is happening in our family, our community, and in our nation. Truths carry over through the ages, and this is very important to recognize. It isn't enough to know what to do, it is also important to know why. This is what I try to instill in my students.
Overall what have been some of the results?
I have watched my children grow exponentially over these last 4 months. When we first started the open format, some of the children were a bit nervous with the style, but have since not only accepted it but embraced it. They seem to look forward to the class, and there is always good-natured banter. I do expect every student to not only do their best but to complete all the assignments. Children want and need consistency and fairness. They also appreciate knowing where the line is drawn in the sand and that it isn't going to move.
With fewer students in your class, what do you see as the biggest advantage compared to the much larger public schools?
With fewer students, the environment is more akin to a homeschool. Each student knows his or her classmates intimately. The atmosphere is more like a family than a class. This isn't anything like a public school. We also can go at a pace that most schools can't match. With a small class, I can individualize the material so that every student can easily understand the concepts we are discussing. We also have the luxury of learning not only the topic at hand but also so much more. We start each day with a few minutes talking about the saint of the day. Maybe we will say a special prayer for somebody in one of our families or in the community that needs help.
I always tell my students that God wants us to do well in our station in life. Right now their station is being a student, and He expects them to do their best while in school. The grades don't matter nearly as much as the real test, and that is attaining Heaven.