Good day, Island School Blog readers! This is Katie McDougall, the Fall 2011 “Master Teacher in Residence.” By way of introduction, I hail from Nashville, TN where I’ve been teaching English at Ensworth High School. Before that, I taught for a decade in Colorado Springs at The Colorado Springs School and at Cheyenne Mountain High School. The Master Teacher position at The Island School was created so that a more experienced teacher can have a presence on campus and serve as a mentor to the many young teachers. I came into this role quite serendipitously and have found myself amazed on a daily basis at this grand and sublime adventure. (Right now as I type, the deep orange sun is rising over the ocean outside my front porch, confirming the accuracy of the word, sublime.) As Master Teacher, one of my charges, in addition to team-teaching with the dynamic and fabulous Lit Department, is to regularly observe classes in subjects outside my discipline, and as a byproduct, I have become a student again. I’ve been learning more broadly than I have for many years, and in doing so, I have had the unique opportunity to experience the full range of the students’ academic adventure (minus the homework.) In Math, by measuring and analyzing the data on the cistern, we’ve gained a better understanding of water usage and how best to use the Island School cistern system. In Art, we learned about mandalas as the genesis of site-based sculptures made entirely from material found in the natural setting. In Human Ecology, we visited a local farm and spoke to the owner about the challenges of growing crops and raising livestock on Eleuthera. We also learned about environmental ideologies, and used that knowledge to discuss the real live possibility of a cruise liner port on Cape Eleuthera. In Marine Ecology, I participated in a “speed dating” event in which local fish species “met” other species and explored compatibilities, and I also witnessed a “fishbowl” style Harkness discussion on environmental issues and policies as they relate to marine life. In Histories, we wrestled with the issue of race and how “positionality” affects our worldviews. In Literature, we work as a group to better understand Omeros , Derek Walcott’s weighty Caribbean epic poem with all its epic intricacies. In no class does the learning lack meaningful relevance to life in the islands and at home. In no class is the course work disconnected from the material in the other classes. In no class are students left unaffected by the content or by the dynamic young teachers. The essential question, “How does one live well in a place?” and its keystones—Community, Sustainability, and Sense of Place—lurk in every corner the curriculum, giving meaning and depth to every classroom experience.
Recently, in a community meeting students were asked to reflect upon what they value at The Island School. Some of the responses included “self-reflection,” “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” “friendship,” “learning in a different way,” and “the development of integrity.” I, too, have experienced all these. A fifteen-year veteran of the classroom, I’ve discovered knowledge of self and of place far beyond what I had anticipated in coming here. The IslandSchoolis a blessed place, rich grounds for intellectual and personal growth. And while I am absent from the crisp reds, oranges, and yellows that visit the Tennessee hills each fall, I am relishing the various shades of aqua and green that tint the Cape Eleuthera shores and all they offer me as both “Master Teacher” and as student.