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Swarthmore's Teachers as Scholars Program Continues to Inspire Community Educators

Keith Reeves '88 lectures in front of a class

A few dynamic seminars on Swarthmore’s campus can work wonders for recharging the batteries of seasoned K through 12 educators.  

By providing a creative setting to learn from leading researchers and professors, Swarthmore’s Teachers as Scholars (TAS) program, now in its seventh year, has served hundreds of local teachers, helping them to return invigorated to their classrooms across the region.

“So many people go into teaching because they love ideas and helping others learn how to participate in conversations about them,” says Lisa Smulyan ’76, Henry C. and Charlotte Turner Professor of Educational Studies. “This program gives them the time and resources to re-engage directly in their own learning and exchange ideas with others.”

The TAS workshops, the first of which was held on Oct. 17, aim to remind the teachers of the joy of learning and what it’s like to be on the receiving end of instruction.  

“It was good for my soul,” says Claudia Carlsson, a social studies teacher at Strath Haven High School who has attended five TAS workshops. “Teachers as Scholars reminds us why we are passionate lifelong learners -- one of the traits we hope to pass on to our students.”

The program, which is free for the teachers, works to give them something they rarely have enough of - time to explore and talk about subjects in depth such as climate change, great ideas in math, cracking visual codes found in art, and the history of Islam. Learning from experts in their fields while communing with colleagues in a collegiate setting is inspiring, says Carlsson. “The topics always open our minds to new ideas and we leave refreshed with a renewed focus,” she says.

A faculty member stands in front of a classNow in its seventh year, the TAS workshops aim to remind the teachers of the joy of learning and what it’s like to be on the receiving end of instruction.

At the latest workshop and in an upcoming one on November 14, 17 teachers will meet with Associate Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves '88 for “Understanding and Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline.” On February 6 and 27, teachers will explore contemporary theater with Associate Professor of Theater Elizabeth Stevens. Swarthmore initially funded the program through a Woodrow Wilson Foundation grant and now funds the program, with districts paying the costs of substitute teacher coverage.

TAS is driven by two basic beliefs, says Cathy Dunn, Swarthmore’s TAS coordinator. “First, K-12 teachers are inherently interested in ideas and their transforming potential.” Secondly, Dunn says, this program provides time for teachers to reflect with their colleagues and an experienced scholar on serious, thoughtful ideas and scholarship in the field is critical for teacher professionalism and renewal. “It’s really exciting for classroom teachers to have the opportunity to learn from professors who are on the cutting edge of their fields. And the professors involved in the program also appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the professional lives of their K-12 colleagues.”

With funding from the Offices of the President and the Provost, this year the program will also include teachers from Philadelphia and Chester. Andrew Jackson Elementary, Olney High, Freire Middle School and High School, and the Workshop School will join Wallingford-Swarthmore School District and Rose Tree Media.

For Penncrest High School social studies teacher Mark Williams, the TAS program has enhanced his own knowledge and the material he presents in his classes. “I learned a lot about how international trade is conducted and governed, and I was able to use information, charts, graphs, and anecdotes in both my European history course (when we discussed Europe's role in creating a globalized economic and political system), and my sociology course (when we discussed poverty and global income inequality),” Williams says.  As a working father of three young children, he says it's difficult to find time to research and discuss in great depth topics that are relevant to his coursework. 

“Teachers as Scholars has afforded me that opportunity,” says Williams, “and I have found it invaluable.”  

Sean Hobdell, who also teaches at Penncrest, has participated in TAS for the last three years.

“It allows me to explore topics that, without the pressure of a college course, excites me and allows me to indulge and grow not only as a professional but as a person,” says Hobdell, who teaches modern American history, philosophy, and international relations. “In an education field where professional development has become focused on data and administrative agendas, it's incredible to have the opportunity to enrich my knowledge on issues concerning my profession and on topics that intrigue me and spark my curiosity.” 


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