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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

No fear, all clear: Reporters ask teachers about hot-button issues

If you read the Falcon regularly, you know it has a lot of opinions from students and not many from teachers. In an effort to correct this imbalance, Falcon staffers decided to host a discussion with three teachers: AP and regular Physics teacher Kirk Davis, AP Environmental Science teacher Kristen Thomson and English teacher Amy Keys. Reporters picked questions out of a bowl and then asked them to the teachers, and from there, the discussion ensued. What follows are some of the interesting responses the followed these provocative questions.

Falcon: Do you as teachers have favorites?

Davis: Well, as students, do you guys have favorite teachers? You probably do. At the end of the day, we are all people and we all have emotions and there are some people we relate to better (…) But I’ve never known a teacher who has said, ‘I like so and so better, so I’ll give them two extra points.’

Falcon: What is the ideal student?

Davis: You know, I had this kid once, maybe about five years ago, who came to me and asked for a letter of recommendation. I said, ‘Of course!’ but the thing was, this kid was a real disaster. So I sat there, trying to think of what to write, and then I write, ‘This student is a glass half full.’ This student had so much spirit and energy, even if the test scores weren’t that good. There are very few people who are good all around. Almost every single person has something about them that is just amazing, and the best part about being a teacher is finding that ‘ideal’ part of the student.

Keys: The ideal student is the one who is open to recognizing and challenging his or her own preconceptions, to work with others, to try things that may be confusing or awkward and to open themselves to new understandings of the world and of themselves. The ideal student is motivated to work hard by curiosity, compassion and joy in watching himself and herself and those around him or grow in understanding and creativity.

Falcon: How do you decide if a student is just in the class for the grade or if he or she is actually interested?

Davis: It’s not mutually exclusive that a person who is focused on the grade is not interested in learning … I’ll spend as much time as I can with grade grubbers as with kids who are genuinely interested. If they want to pester me about grades, I’ll shut that discussion down, but I will still answer any questions they have.

Thomson: We all realize that you can’t love every single class. As a student, I struggled with history. I like to change the conversation from ‘Why is the grade so important’ to ‘Let’s figure out the best way of learning so you can get the grade you want.’

Falcon: What is your view on the emphasis that students at Saratoga High put into getting into the “best” college?

Davis: You know, the kids here are in an arms race, and that can be stressful. I think it’s important to know that regardless of what college you go to, you will be making connections to other people that will last for years to come. That being said, I do think that of course it is a good idea to aim for the best college you can.

Thomson: In my opinion, it’s better to be the top of a regular, decent school than being mushed in the middle at a super prestigious Ivy League school. That doesn’t mean don’t shoot for the stars, because aiming high is important. But try not to focus your whole life on college, because then when you finally get there, all those years of worrying and stressing will leave you thinking ‘Now what?’

Falcon: What are some common misconceptions about teachers?

Davis: Well, for one, we can’t get too many Starbucks cards. [Laughter] (Thomson: True.)…But in all seriousness, what are some conceptions you have about teachers? That we don’t like our job, or teaching wasn’t our first choice?

Falcon: Yeah, that’s a good one. Was teaching your first choice of careers?

Thomson: I think, unlike other countries, we don’t put teaching first, and it resonates with you guys because you don’t go off to college thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be a teacher.” But I think a lot of us felt this type of calling and we knew this was the place we wanted to be. I do think about the money thing, but I think that the teachers that you have enjoy coming here. We invest so much in you students. You’re like our kids!

Falcon: So how did you become teachers?

Thomson: When I was in college, I thought I was going to become a doctor. But what I was doing in college wasn’t what I liked, and I was so stressed out and unhappy. I had a teaching job over the summer in San Francisco where I graded and created my own lesson plans, and I absolutely loved it.

Davis: I felt there was a need for more math and science teachers, particularly for girls … Teaching wasn’t actually my first job. I actually started teaching when I was 50, and professionally I had finished a medical job and when I was done, I thought about being a teacher. I started by working as a substitute for a bit. It was weird transitioning from the adult world to the student world, and I got a kick out of it; it was so fun. Later, after substituting at Saratoga for a while, I was asked to teach physics. It was funny because although I had an engineering degree by training, I hadn’t studied physics in around 30 years! Still, I started teaching physics. I didn’t even get the credential my first year because I wasn’t sure if I’d like teaching, but I really loved it. It’s not worth doing something if you don’t enjoy it.

Keys: I set out initially to be an actress, dramaturg or director. Then I decided I loved language, linguistics and literature, and I majored in German language and literature at Northwestern. Graduating from Northwestern with a degree in German, I of course went to Indonesia, where I started teaching English as a Foreign Language, and discovered that I loved teaching!

Falcon: What is your view on all-nighters?

Keys: Absurdly counterproductive. There is nothing you are going to learn in the night before that will stick with you, and the increase in cortisol levels caused by that stress is going to make you physically ill, and you are going to forget things and lose skills that you have already mastered due to your sleep deprivation. Bad idea all around.

Falcon: Lastly, what do you think about trying to improve some of the stress that Saratoga kids deal with?

Davis: There’s been a lot of talk about lessening the course load, but honestly, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I do think a lot of the pressure comes from parents, which isn’t healthy, and I think a way to lower stress is to find someone to talk to, especially an adult other than your parents or even your teachers.

Keys: If it’s an option for you, don’t take the hardest class of everything just to take the hardest class of everything! Focus on what you love. If you’re a Robotics wizard, or even a Robotics neophyte, by all means do that. 

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