Friday, February 17, 2017

Diana Reaves' Story

This year all GDS employees are writing about what makes Gaston Day a special place for them. Here is what Upper School English teacher Diana Reaves wrote. 

I always tell people there’s a big reason I live four hours away from my beloved hometown and family in Alabama. I miss those folks every day. But right now, I just can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. Gaston Day, the students and families, my colleagues--for me there’s a connection here, something genuine I know I won’t find elsewhere.

In the English Department, I love that Erin Lekavich checks in with me regarding students and what I’m teaching. She gives me ideas, and we’re able to talk openly about my personal strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. She’s uplifting, helping me grow and learn. I enjoyed the day I walked along the trails in the woods with Dylan Phillips’s English class: we took in the peacefulness of a cool morning, focused on breathing and soaking up birdsong for a little while; we wrote haiku, surrounded by the natural world instead of so many screens, clicking keys, bells.

As a teacher, I feel excited about my own subject, but I like knowing that the kids are well-rounded: they’re taking environmental field-study trips with Becca Hurd, engineering planes with Josh Pietras and Wade Glaser, and debating in both Troy Carter’s and Greg Lekavich’s
government and history classes. And we still believe in the library at this school, and it’s great: it’s a media center, yes, but Karen Ellison loves books and honest research, and it’s evident. That place encourages a steady stream of collaboration--lots of questions, group study, entertainment, projects, and even laughter.

The balance seems real at GDS, or at least we do our best to keep that goal in mind. After studying a novel, short stories, a play, formal paper writing and grammar, my sophomores ended the fall semester with a film unit. I saw that the students needed a change a bit earlier than I’d originally planned, a little energy in the room. And they loved watching Gattaca and Dead Poets Society--all those wonderful life lessons embedded--while also learning how to read and discuss a film, similarly to the way we read and discuss a text. Sometimes I feel like I’m tricking them into enjoying the idea of analysis and critical thinking. So many conversations about technology, evolution, education, and humanity surfaced during that unit.

Students are challenged here, but they’re also deeply loved. Middle school English teacher Sarah Voigt told me that in the 7th grade journals, the students wrote about taking control of their education. They reflected on the idea of why we learn, why we care, why we maybe don’t, why others sometimes care more about our studies than we do, etc. She’s attempting to cultivate vision and ownership in those youngsters. And that’s a school deal and a life skill. That’s a great example of a teacher believing in these students--their lives and responsibilities beyond flawless prose and test scores.

Students are given roots here, and then they get to grow up in a place where it’s safe to be creative, in a family where a wrong answer is simply a stepping stone to the right one. They also learn to test the “right ones.” What does right and wrong even mean? There are snapshots, photos, pictures, selfies,
snapchats, instagrams--but we’re not lying when we say we’re working on the full portrait at Gaston Day. We’re trying to be equitable and sensitive to the way educations is evolving for the better, trying to put the students against the best backdrop and in the best light possible. Pose them, if you will, for a successful future, whatever success means for them as individuals. We’re helping them try new things, gain confidence, showcase and develop talents, and discover what their hearts love; we’re listening as they ask difficult questions and reach for purpose and hope in a somewhat, at least at times, very dark world. It’s really a great day to be a Spartan, to certainly be one if you aren’t already.