An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Amy Kaz, English teacher

Last spring, in her 22nd year of teaching, English teacher Amy Kaz took a semester-long sabbatical. She recently shared her thoughts about what she learned during the sabbatical and its effect on how she approaches her work.

Last semester I took a break from Lakeside. I was granted a sabbatical, and my family and I spent four months living in Mexico. During that time, I had time to think about what is important to me and how those values inform my teaching life. I’m sure if students read this, they’ll say I sound a lot like Bernie Noe. True, and Bernie Noe is correct. It became clear to me in Mexico that the most important thing I can do each day is to be kind. And in order to be kind, to even contemplate thinking of others before myself, I need to take care of myself. I need exercise, I need time with family and friends, and I need time for reflection. These are the things that Lakeside students need too. As a teacher, it is my duty not only to insist on academic rigor, but also to insist on balance.

So this year I am excited to put myself to the test. Can I remain calm in the midst of the Lakeside busy-ness, and can I teach my students to do the same? At a high-powered academic school, can I give my students the intellectual challenge they need while also tending to the whole student? Like that Little Blue Engine in the childhood story, I think I can.

I will ask them about stylistic techniques used by our authors, and I will ask them how much sleep they got the night before. I will push them to think about issues of power and privilege, and I will ask them about the volleyball match, the chess competition, the music recital. I will demand that they look each other in the eyes when they are engaging in discussion and that they say hello to me when they see me on campus. I will not let them be on their phones.

I will help them practice being good listeners, caring more about what others around the table have to say than about what they might say so as to get participation points. I will challenge them to think beyond what they perceive to be the things that will get them into college, so they can develop their own interests, those things that will sustain them now and in the future. I will make sure that I do not overload them with homework, so that they may have time to pursue their own interests. During the breaks in long-period blocks I will take them on walks or do mindfulness meditation. Then we will meditate on the beauty of a Eudora Welty photograph and her own writings about the power of storytelling.

Most importantly, I will help them, through the literature we read and the discussions we have, open their hearts and minds to experiences different from their own. I hope in so doing, I can instill in them a lifelong love of reading and perhaps even encourage them to become more compassionate people.

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