Here at White Mountain, we pride ourselves in our wonderfully intelligent and diverse faculty who push our students to engage in and with a culture of inquiry. This month, we have chosen to profile Barbara Buckley, our English and Theatre instructor. Barbara shares below her thoughts on the educational community at White Mountain as well as some of her experiences here on our New Hampshire campus.
Why do you love working in Education?
Having worked in public schools and at White Mountain, I have experienced very different approaches to education. Through the years, I have seen a number of models for education and the impact of No Child Left Behind and the rising importance of standardized testing in all grade levels. Throughout it all, I have been able to focus on the value of the individual student’s voice in driving his or her education. It has been a joy for me to be a part of my students’ lives; to get to know them as wonderful, unique, human beings – to learn from them, and to develop many long-lasting relationships. At White Mountain, I have a great deal of autonomy in my classroom. As a result, I have my own benchmarks to surpass and goals to accomplish. I feel as if I have set higher standards for myself as a teacher than any of my former principals had set for me. Mostly, though, I love my job because of my students: their passion, joy, and curiosity – they motivate me to be the best teacher I can be.
What are your students studying right now?
Right now, I am walking through metaphorical minefields with my English I and Murder in Literature students. In English I, we are reading Oedipus Rex, and trying to figure out what it means to be blind or insightful, in control of our destinies or puppets of fate, all while dealing with a murderous and incestuous King Oedipus. In Murder in Literature, we have completed reading Frankenstein, and are continuing a discussion of whether a person’s personality and behavior are more influenced by nature/genetics or nurture/environment. We have just begun reading Othello and researching manipulation – the qualities and skills of a manipulator, and the qualities of a person who can be manipulated. I love teaching both these plays because there are so many connections to our world today including use and abuse of power, racism, and the marginalization of the “other”, and whether we are in control of our lives.
What are some of your hobbies or passions outside of school responsibilities?
I love being out in the wilds of New Hampshire, and my two favorite things to do outside are hiking and photography. Two summers ago, I began hiking 4,000 footers and now have 13 under my belt. I belong to a photography club and have fun on “photo shoots” with them and with my Dad when we can get together.
How are students engaged in your class?
Students tend to drive the conversation and own the work we do. They are often responsible for developing questions about the text – both for discussion and assessment. They also lead discussions about the context of a story or the logic or practical applications of the themes or characters’ actions. The students in English I have been working on critical thinking and problem solving. Each day we focus on either discussing possible meanings of poems, solving mysteries or logic problems, or figuring out why cartoons or memes are funny.
How do they show curiosity? Example/scenario?
Before students begin reading a text, I ask them to engage in a small inquiry project. For example, before reading Othello in Murder in Literature, the students watched the movie “Gaslight” to see manipulation in action. This got them pretty riled up and interested in finding out more about how people manipulate others. They selected a related topic of interest and, working in small groups, gathered information about manipulation that they then shared with the class. Now they are well-aware of manipulation techniques and why someone is able to manipulate or be manipulated. This will help them understand and get curious about how Iago, from Shakespeare’s play, is able to successfully manipulate just about everyone in the play.
Favorite teaching moment here at White Mountain?
Several years ago, I was teaching The Cherry Orchard to my English II class. It was springtime, and I knew my students pretty well at that point, so I was aware that one of my students, Josh, was having a particularly difficult time. We decided to have a cup of tea and figure out how to understand the story. As I was explaining that the old Russian family had power and a good reputation but no money, and the son of the former serf, Lopakhin, had lots of money, but a bad reputation and no power, I saw a light go on in Josh’s eyes. He jumped out of his seat and started comparing Lopakhin to Jay-Z and other rappers. He said all the old rock stars were just making records because they had a reputation for having been great a long time ago, but they really weren’t great any more, but rappers were making great music and had tons of money but still were not respected and didn’t have power. I told him he was absolutely right. He had made the connection between literature and contemporary life – his life – and he never looked back. On his graduation day he told me that he loved English because of that moment, and he was able to understand that although important information might not be obvious in what he read, it was worth looking for.