Swarthmore welcomed more than 30 local schoolteachers to campus last week for its Teachers as Scholars program, inviting them to take a step back from the front of the classroom and engage in lifelong learning.
Whether it’s meditating in the amphitheater, discovering ancient species in the Crum Woods, or cutting video clips from DVDs and YouTube, the program has been taking participants beyond their areas of expertise to broaden perspectives for the past three years.
“Teachers really, really appreciate the chance to think about something new, in a new way,” says Lisa Smulyan '76, Henry C. and Charlotte Turner Professor and Chair of Educational Studies, who directs the program. “It gives them a sense of renewal.”
The program appeals to teachers eager for academic enrichment and time to reflect upon their craft — which are hard to come by in the course of daily responsibilities.
“It was great being a student for a change,” says Mike Ciavola, a computer teacher at Strath Haven Middle School. “Having this perspective does affect the way you teach.”
Indeed, many teachers report bringing ideas or practices they learn in the program back into their classrooms. That’s not the intention of the program, Smulyan notes, but “a great byproduct.”
The College offered two-day, small-group seminars on climate change and film and media studies this fall, and will offer another on folklore and literature in the spring. The format allows the teachers and College faculty to delve deeply into subjects and exchange viewpoints.
“I loved the lengthy discussions we had, the avenues of thought we explored,” says Winnie Host, a librarian at Penncrest High School, who participated in the climate change session last week. “It was such a rich educational experience.”
Adds Professor of Religion Mark Wallace, who led the session: “I thoroughly enjoyed it. Conversations and instructional content were marked with insight, controversy, and the free exchange of ideas."
The program is open to any K-12 teacher in the Wallingford-Swarthmore and Rose Tree Media school districts, at no cost to the teacher. A Swarthmore alumnus enrolled in each of this year’s seminars, including Jeanette Kaplan ’95, a teacher and reading specialist at Wallingford Elementary School, who is striving to build an outdoor, eco-friendly learning space at the school with the help of community partners.
Teachers as Scholars strengthens Swarthmore’s ties with the community and its school districts. It’s a chance to give back to the schools in which the College’s students are often placed for a range of Educational Studies courses, says Smulyan.
“This is a nice way to be collaborators, not just beneficiaries,” she says. “That’s very important to us.”
Smulyan and Catherine Dunn ’93, who taught in the Wallingford-Swarthmore school district for 14 years and coordinates Teachers as Scholars, receive positive feedback on the program in participant evaluations and at presentations they give at district faculty meetings. That feedback aligns with what they hear on campus from Swarthmore faculty who participate.
“Swarthmore faculty relish the chance to make their own work both challenging and accessible to novices,” Smulyan says. “They, too, get a moment outside of their daily processes to think about what they love about their work and how they can share it with others."
“I loved working with the teachers and, in turn, would very much like to be able to attend a couple of their classes,” adds Sunka Simon, professor of German studies and associate provost for faculty development, who led film and media studies session. “I’m sure I could learn a lot from them.”