In this year and a half as a new teacher in the Semester School world, it has been invigorating to redefine what I think of when I think of “a teacher.” It can be especially hard to navigate your role as a teacher in a place as dynamic as a semester school. From 7 AM to 9 PM you live and learn alongside your students. You cook and sing alongside your students on camping trips. You huff and puff alongside them as you climb over rocks to the top of a mountain pass on a path you were meant to ascend 2 hours earlier. You spend evenings in the cabins sharing highs and lows from the day as you serve on residential duty. You hear your students say things like “it’s so crazy that you’re in my cabin! You’re my English teacher!” You see your students start to feel comfortable owning and leading an experiential feedback process for their Picture Essays in English class. You grasp the hands of your students as you engage in an empathy-based meditation practice. You wash and clean dishes alongside them. You take out the compost and sweep out the classrooms alongside them. 

With so many moments spent alongside our students, there is so much opportunity. 

The power in working alongside our students, for me, begins to send a very real message. The message being: this experience and this community is yours, just as much as its mine. It is yours to give to, to own and to create. As a student, The Outdoor Academy gives you countless opportunities to grow into an autonomous and self-guiding individual, but to do so it asks you to engage, deeply. In a school that demands so much of you emotionally, academically and physically; the transformational experience you can take away rests on your own decision to lean in. 

And lean in they do. The other day, during an English class, the students dove headfirst into an analysis of “Swamp boy” by Rick Bass. They managed their own discussion, they heard each other, they built off of each other and most of all, they self-guided. I felt as if I’d become another member of the group. I was no longer needed in the typical “teacher” capacity. Maybe this is the essence of my role? 

In the first few weeks when some students were navigating our chore area they asked me “What should we do now?”, “How do we know when we’re done?” I always put it back to them. I say, “There is a list on the wall that has some suggested things we can do, but it’s really up to you all to determine what needs to get done and what makes you feel comfortable enough to walk away.”  “This is your space,” I said, “you all can own this, let me know where you need me.” I’m just part of the crew. They often send me upstairs to vacuum now.

Leading Trek is right around the corner. I’m eager to see the confidence of our students and the ownership they feel over their experience materialize in this next section of their journey here.

I now feel confident in saying that my role is that of a guiding support system. Facilitating and creating an ideal environment in which they can flourish. That I should not be the one solving problems as they arise but instead putting it to the students to address – how do we solve this? What do you think? Pushing them to own their experience, their choices and their time here.

By Chelsea Staunton, English Teacher