Q and A: You are a 2nd grade teacher at Ensworth. How long have you been here? This is my nineteenth year at Ensworth. I just have to stop for a moment and take that in. It seems like I just started here!
What brought you here? My husband, Dean Schneider, and I taught and lived at Eaglebrook School, a private school for junior high boys in Massachusetts, and we were both looking for a better place to raise our young children and Nashville and Ensworth seemed perfect for all of us. Dean was hired a few years before I was and when I was ready to return to full time work, I substituted around town and loved my time in second grade at Ensworth.
How does Ensworth differ from the other schools you have taught at?
I did my student teaching at a progressive lab school at Smith College and the encouragement to find best practice and to keep working to be a better teacher was definitely instilled there and at Ensworth. I also taught in Newark, New Jersey, at a summer tutoring program adjacent to the Prince Street Projects and at a community center in Dominican Catholic church and fifth and sixth in a private school in Pennsylvania. And, I taught algebra II to eighth grade boys at Eaglebrook. Since I have always created the classroom I want to create, no matter the school, it’s hard to see any great differences from school to school.
How did you get involved? Like so many things in my life, I got involved by accident. I had been a bookseller while I was a new teacher and had always been involved in the children’s book world. I am passionate about books and ended up writing for the Tennesseean when Mary Hance’s job as Ms. Cheap left her little time to keep up with new books for children. Then I was asked to write for Kirkus Reviews, BookPage and the Horn Book which led to being asked to serve on book committees.
How does that enhance your teaching? I am always on the lookout for new books that tie into my teaching and love to change my teaching from year to year based on new books. I am not shy about pushing new books onto other teachers, either! New books, especially new excellent books, keep my excited about teaching. I love to see children fall in love with books each year.
Q: You were able to go to Haiti on a professional development trip with some other Ensworth teachers a couple summers ago. Tell us a little bit about that and the most significant lesson that you took away from that experience.
A: Going to Haiti was life changing in so many ways for me. Our original trip was to the mountains of Rwanda, where the language of instruction was changing from French to English and we were to work with teachers who were creating new programs in reading. I have always been interested in the history of Rwanda and the reconciliation that has been happening after the genocide and I was pretty jazzed up because I thought I would have something to offer. (I mean, really, how many times would my knowledge of reading instruction help others??) When it was clear that the elections were leading to unrest, the trip was moved to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Here are some things I really don’t like: camping and heat. Guess how hot it was in the DR and Haiti? 90s with a million per cent humidity. Guess where we slept in Haiti? In tents
And I lived through it and hope to return to Lafond, Haiti. I learned about the resiliency of the human spirit. I learned how much we all want to work together and that we all want to offer of ourselves, even when we have very little in the way of material goods. Seeing folks rebuilding and replanting their crops just a few months after the earthquake was humbling on so many levels. The most important thing we did there was listen. We listened to story after story and, when we returned, I could not stop thinking about those stories. Last year, my second graders helped raise money to build a house for a family I met. It’s already finished. I befriended the local seamstress, Mrs. Maurice, and was able to send her some sewing machine parts that she needed. And, just this Friday, I received an amazing gift from Mrs. Maurice: a hand-embroidered tablecloth. It was a gift sent out of the blue from someone I met on a mountain in Haiti. I only hope I can return soon and thank her in person.
Q: By then end of 2nd grade, most of the students know how to knit! I know you love knitting. Is that something that you teach the students for fun?
What kind of projects do the students do with their knitting? They make hats and blankets and other small things. Second graders are very generous–most of their projects are for others in their family. They also, later in the year, knit hats for the neonatal intensive care unit at Meharry Hospital, Centennial, Baptist and Vanderbilt.
Q: Tell us a the most recent book you have read that you just really loved, or that resonated with you and why.
A: Well, I read all the time. Let me see what is on top of the stack to my left. Underground by Shane Evans. It’s a stunning book for very young children about how enslaved people escaped slavery on the Underground railroad. The language is spare–no more than three words per page–but the message is a deep one, about dignity and freedom.
Q: Who is the next faculty member from the HS that you would like to see featured?
A: I think we would all like to know more about my Haiti buddy, Carrie Gauchat.