The Student Becomes the Teacher

A high school classmate, enthused about Tutti’s Promise, introduced me to a current teacher at our former school, Eric LaForest. Eric is the Director of the Norton Center for the Common Good at Loomis Chaffee School and he invited me to spend a day teaching. We spoke on the phone, exchanged emails, and came up with a schedule for the day. I would lead a discussion in a Freshman Seminar, my mother would present to the entire Freshman class, and I would guest teach a block of the history seminar elective, “Germany and the Holocaust.”

No problem, I thought. I know this.

So, just like in high school, I procrastinated. I had many other things to attend to in the weeks leading up to my day at Loomis Chaffee. I was preparing my daughter for a semester abroad, helping my parents with insurance claims, making personal travel plans, bringing a car in for service, and attending to general household chores. Eventually, though, I got to work. The hardest part of my preparation was to coordinate a slide show to match my mother’s story as she likes to tell it. Once she shared her outline I gathered pictures and documents onto a PowerPoint that would go in roughly the right order. For the Freshman seminar I took the lesson plan on moral courage which Eric had shared and adapted it to include some specific ideas from the Holocaust and Tutti’s Promise. And I thought long and hard about the best approach for a high school history seminar.

LCstage1Still, when the day came for me to present I was a bit nervous. I no longer fear public speaking and I didn’t worry about the technology working, too much. This time my fear was new — and yet completely old — I would be presenting to some of my former teachers.

As 150 freshman assembled in the large auditorium several people came up to me to say hello — one of my English teachers, my history teacher and swim coach, another of my history teachers, a classmate (the one responsible for this day), and a friend who had worked with me at Dartmouth and is now at Loomis Chafee. Whoa! Lots of memories came flooding back. I remembered swim meets, papers I had to write, feeling unprepared for class, and my first official history term paper — the one that received two grades, one from the teacher and another from the librarian who checked all citations and research.

That paper was the cause of much anxiety during my junior year of high school. How on earth would I find enough to say about one thing to fill 20 or more pages? Would I be able to cite everything correctly? And how could I discuss an event that many other people had already written about without accidentally plagiarizing and coming up with new observations and thoughts. Writing, especially writing about history, was never my forté much less one of my interests. I was drawn to numbers and science, subjects where there were final answers and no ambiguity (or so I thought at the time). What would my former English and history teachers think of my book? Would they be proud of my accomplishment? Or would they find errors in my research or presentation.

LCstage2

As usual, once we started everything went very well. The audience was interested and attentive. When mom and I were done, they asked wonderful questions and we were able to address them all.

Anxiety is a strange beast. It can stop me from succeeding or it can push me to do my best. The trick is to not let it get the better of me. I have learned to thank it for making me cautious and reminding me to prepare. But it is hard to remember that, once everything is prepared, I need to just let it go and do whatever it is I came to do as best I can at that moment.

Heidi Dom

After my teaching day I received a note from one of my teachers, now retired. He said, “Thank you for coming to Loomis Chaffee….Your mother radiates a self-assertive dignity that we are, I am afraid, losing. Both of  you  convey a very clear and compassionate message which we need, so badly, to convey to young people. They want and they need this message. I also loved our discussion at lunch. I so realized how much I missed these young people…” Not only did my lesson come across well, I gave my teacher a positive experience reliving his own days of teaching. It was a good day!

 

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