The Aroostook Review Interview by Hailee Morin
How long have you been teaching at the Fort Kent High school?
I have been teaching here for thirteen years.
Did you always teach English?
Yes. At one point I did teach a course called the freshman seminar which was more or less an introduction to high school skills based (skills strengthening) course, but we kind of phased that out and moved it down to the 8th grade so now it is just English.
What inspired you to study and teach English?
Priscilla Daigle. She was an art teacher at the Fort Kent high school and she would sit down with individual students every class period and talk to them. "What are you going to do with your life?" She would mention the art that we were working on but she was very interested in where we were going and what we were going to do with our lives. She said that, "I could see you as a teacher." I really hadn't given it alot of serious thought until that point and the more she talked to me about it the more I could see myself as a teacher and I decided that was were I was going to go.
Do you enjoy your job?
I love my job! I love my job! I've always been pushed by administrators to try to get into administration and leadership roles, but if it meant leaving the classroom I have always tried to avoid going in that direction. I am often frustrated by the kids I work with and worn out and just exhausted but I love working with them. It's a sick type of obsession!
What are some of the positive aspects of your job?
That you're working with people. Every day is different. There is never a dull moment. Every student has strengths and every student has weaknesses. Every student has a certain amount of needs that you are capable of meeting in many ways and there is a constant sense that you are helping someone. It is a very people oriented job. It's stressful and it's draining but it is rewarding.
Do your students typically have a negative or positive attitude towards reading and writing? When they come into classroom are they excited or are they worn out?
Very negative. I want to say negative. Especially young males, they come to high school often having never read a book cover to cover on their own. They might have read one within a classroom as an assignment but to actually go home and pick up a book and read it cover to cover for the sheer enjoyment of reading or the sheer interest, very few have. They just have a negative attitude about reading. I know it's not the teachers of the lower grades that instill it; but, in some way, shape or form they get a negative attitude. With Young females it's less. I find that they have a more positive attitude. I have read enough at this point that I can usually connect the right kid to the right book just to start them off. Usually it is pretty easy for to keep them going from there. Lance Armstrong is probably one of my biggest allies and a couple of other authors who I turn to for starting some kids out.
What type of advice would you give to someone who is considering teaching English as a profession?
You have to love learning. It's a twenty four hour a day job. You think about your students constantly, even when you're home. There are alot of political areas within this profession; there is a contract that you sign, but you can't think of that. So many teachers I work with will walk out of the building at 3:15PM because it is in the contract and they can. They don't stay to help other students; they don't stay to make themselves a better teacher. They stick to the contract and that's not what it's about; it's about students and it's about learning. And you have to love that and to want to help kids and you kind of have to be able to take a beating because students don't always see you as their advocate or their ally. You have to be able to keep your nose up and keep going.
What genre of English interests you the most?
I have to say fiction. I love to read; I always have two or three novels by my bed at home and I always have one on my desk and whatever is on my desk is what students want to read. Sometimes I don't even read the book, I just put it on my desk and they want to pick it up and know more about it. I do like short stories, especially, as life gets busy. I have children and I have a very busy home life. Short fiction is really neat because you can read a short story in a very short amount of time and be done with it and have closure. Whereas, [with] a novel, sometimes life gets in the way and is sometimes difficult to finish.
Do you do any personal writing?
Not much. I have in the past and I do share some of it with my students, although it is probably more time that I don't have. I recently bought a lap top so I am hoping to really get into that more. I love to write and I can write on demand and I do it for my students and I find it very enlightening for them. I have become a better writer because of my job.
Do you have any plans of publishing anything in the future?
Not right off.
You would if you could, but...
It's a very personal thing. But I am starting to collect my memories because I can only imagine how interesting it would be for my parents to read about my upbringing from my point of view, only now because I am a parent myself. My perspective of my childhood, my upbringing, my education and my home life has got to be very different from my parents' perspective, because it's two different things. I think that they would find it very interesting so I would probably write for them.
When I visited your classroom this fall I was looking at a number of your laminated poetry books. Why do you make these booklets?
Several reasons actually. Number one is a celebration of learning to let students know that there work is so valuable that it needs to be kept it needs to be kind of immortalized. Number two to shame my current students to say, "Look what last years kids came up with. Can you beat it?" Student writing is such an authentic teaching tool. It's great to bring in poetry from Dickinson and Keats and Whitman but to actually say, "Hey, a sophomore wrote this last year and it's about the Hurricane Katrina or about the Tsunami or a student who went though a difficult time," is so much more engaging and real to a student that it inspires them. I find it very inspirational. The third thing is for me. I love to keep things from my students. Often-times I [have]seen students that I taught years ago and I [will] say, "Hey, I've got something for you. Come visit me sometime." They come and I'll give them the stuff and they've forgotten or they have lost their copy, and they're amazed by their growth and how far they've come. I do that with short fiction also. They all write short stories and I keep them. I was using them today, previous years' stuff, as a model.
Are the booklets put together by teachers, students, or a combination? How does the process work?
A combination, it's a class effort. We use class time and we use student ideas to develop the themes. They always decide if they want to do a chapter book. One year they based their poetry book on the ideas they had explored; some explored life, some explored teenage issues, death, sports, television, and we just kind of organized it like that. Others have more random ways of organizing. The booklets are unique to that class and it creates a really neat feeling.
Are the students positive about other people viewing their work? And do you share them with the community?
Yes. In fact, alot of changes at the high school now are being implemented to make that even more of an effort. We would like to display student work in businesses throughout the community. But it also changes the way a student works, if they know their work is going to be seen by the community or an administrator there is alot more effort and attention to revision and editing, alot more polishing, than if we just said, "Okay, this is for me to see and no one else." It really takes it to a new level and they find skills that they didn't know that they had as they put it together.
Do you receive any feedback from parents?
Occasionally. Part of our ongoing evaluation of ourselves is to try to get parent feedback. We have a district wide forum that we send out to parents and ask them, "Does your child talk about their teachers at home. What does he or she say? List three words that your child uses to describe the teacher." We have parents night but I don't get alot of formal feedback from parents; unless, I actually go out looking for it. Parents often say they're pleased. Some of the students I teach now have parents in the building and they are very comfortable with the work that I do.
Do you think that having the ability to get student work published in the Aroostook Review will encourage them in their writing?
Absolutely! I think there is a big risk in that, especially for the young males. I call them my underachieving males. To really put your work out there is a very brave thing and if there is one thing kids lack its self confidence. To actually say this is it, this is the form that I am ready to share my work in. I am willing to bet that the young ladies would be willing to throw it at you and you would probably have to yank it away from the young males. But young men can generate some really neat stuff given the opportunity.
We welcome writers of all ages to submit content, and will look forward to seeing some work from your students.