Ms. Mushkin Goes to Maine

JM Visit and Baby WyvernBy Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

Recently, 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher Julie Mushkin had the incredible experience of becoming an intern at noted educator Nancie Atwell’s Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, Maine. Nancie Atwell is a guru in Language Arts instruction and was the winner of the first $1 million dollar Global Teacher Prize (like the Nobel Prize in teaching), so this was a prestigious coup for Julie. You can color me not surprised that someone as dedicated to her craft as Julie was one of a handful of teachers nationwide who were selected for this program!

And since I have been in the woods at Big South Fork Wednesday through Friday of this week, I sent Julie an early “interview” to hear about her experience in Maine! Enjoy her report and we’ll share our stories about the 8th grade trip next week!

What was it like to be the student, as opposed to the teacher, again?
Since I just finished a master’s program last year, I still remember quite well how it feels to be a student. That said, I haven’t sat through an 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. school day as a student in over 20 years, and it was really exhausting! Honestly, by the end of the first day of solid notetaking and listening, I had a renewed appreciation for our students. Being a student is a very difficult job!

What single lesson or technique you observed made the biggest impression on you?
I was blown away by the daily poetry lesson and the students’ ability to analyze the poetry at such a mature level. They not only engaged with the poems emotionally, but impressively dissected the pieces using advanced poetic terms and literary vocabulary.

Have you been able to incorporate any of your experience into your own classroom yet?
Actually, we began “Poetry Monday” this week! The first poem we discussed was “I Look at the World,” by Langston Hughes, which speaks of oppression and leads nicely into our new unit on dystopian fiction. The students were both able to identify the obvious theme of racial oppression and tie the piece to the concepts of dystopia, totalitarian control, and lack of individualism. They also learned how to correctly apply poetic terms such as anaphora and caesura, which was fun. This format of poetry analysis is just one of many things I am incorporating into my teaching, and I am excited to share the dozens of new resources I am creating with my students and their parents over the coming weeks. Believe me, this is just the beginning!

What was your reaction to being chosen when you found out?
I was thrilled and, honestly, a bit surprised. Approximately 25 teachers from all over the world get chosen each year to participate in this internship, 15 of whom are middle school teachers, so it was a tremendous honor to receive the invitation. I have no doubt I was accepted because St. Francis School has an incredible reputation in the national academic community. They only invite teachers who they know will be supported by their administrations in implementing this curriculum. I obviously have the full support of the SFS administration and my colleagues!

How was Maine and did you get to do any sightseeing?
Maine was absolutely beautiful, but very rural. Edgecomb is about an hour north of Portland, and it was similar in size to Anchorage, Kentucky. I drove to some nearby towns after school, but most are just a small strip of locally-owned boutiques. I did drive about 45 minutes to see the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, but it gets really dark in Maine by 6:00 p.m., so after a quick walk along the rocky coast, I headed straight back to my B&B. There were no hotels!

Can you summarize your time in Maine in three words or less?
Inspiring and intense.

It’s clear Julie had an incredible professional development experience in Maine, and one from which she and our our students will surely benefit!