New program aims to build teachers and leaders

Emilie Marshall at HACTC

You have to figure Emilie Marshall likes school a lot. She spends her weekdays at three of them.

Most of the time, she's a senior at both Hanover High and the Hartford Area Career & Technology Center (HACTC). But she's also a teaching assistant at Lebanon Middle School. And she already knows what she wants to do with her life.

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She wants to teach. In middle school.

"I want to catch kids before they get to high school," she explains. "In middle school they still love learning. So you can hang out with them and hear their funny jokes, and teach them about things like circles and angles, and they want to learn it."

There are more than a few students like Emilie at the HACTC -- high-schoolers who see a future for themselves in education of one sort or another. They're why the school has created a new "Education Sciences" program under instructor Michele Morrell. Or, actually, two programs: Teaching and Learning; and Coaching and Leading. The two one-year courses will replace HACTC's 47-year-old Human Services Program.

The programs are still taking shape, but they'll be serious about hands-on experience. The leadership program will include courses in wilderness first-aid and outdoor leadership -- the HACTC is working with the Hulbert Outdoor Center to develop them -- and each student will have a mentor at an Upper Valley organization. "It's all about different kinds of leadership," says Morrell. "There's athletic coaching, workplace readiness, conflict resolution, public speaking, media ethics -- and probably some college credit around communication skills. This is geared toward any type of leadership position." The Teaching and Learning course will put students in classrooms--ideally, Morrell says, two days a week. 

Morrell has had her own fair share of learning experiences when it comes to teaching. After starting her career as a special education teacher in Michigan, she eventually moved to an inner-city school in Detroit--where her car was stolen her third week there. But, she says, "The kids were awesome!" Then she spent a year at Hanover's Ray School, followed by six years at an elementary school on an Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota--a tenure marked indelibly for her by a school shooting in which a former student killed seven people at the high school down the street. Even so, she loved the students there, too -- though not the winters, which made the Upper Valley look like the tropics. "It was common to hit 30 below," she says, "and they didn't usually close school unless it hit -40." Eventually, she and her husband moved back to the Upper Valley.

Michele Morrell talks to students in her classroom.

More recently, Morrell has begun teaching English to students in China. She teaches online on Sundays, during school vacations, and over the summer. She intends to apply the skills she's learned there to the HACTC's new education program, as well. "This year we had a student who was working at one of the child care centers say there were children there who didn't speak English at all," she reports. "We talked about a technique called 'Total Physical Response': how you use your hands, your expressions, as well as a variety of props. I think it's really important, especially if students move to states where there are more kids who don't speak English."

The Education Sciences program will include plenty of traditional instruction, from industry certifications such as CPR and emergency planning for schools, to special education, lesson planning, and classroom management. But it's the hands-on work that will most likely convince HACTC students that either they love the work and want to keep doing it, or they should find another career path--before they spend their higher-education money on teacher training. "The students can listen to me talk about professionalism and how to work with kids, but the best thing is to actually be in a classroom," says Morrell.

Emilie Marshall agrees. After all, she's a high-schooler teaching kids not that much younger than her. But her time in the classroom with them has helped her figure it out.

"At first I was scared, because I didn't know if they would treat me as a friend or a teacher," she says. "So I was standoffish and insisted they get their work done--a lot of them assumed I was in college, which helped a lot. But then in a couple of weeks, I started joking with them -- because we're in the same generation, we laugh about the same things and all their memes, but then when I say it's time to stop joking and give them their worksheets, they're able to quiet down and listen."

It probably doesn't hurt that she also knows how to get their attention. "The most interesting and difficult part of this is finding a topic kids can relate to through what you teach... but keeping them on track at the same time. If you're teaching geometry, you ask what they love, and someone says, 'Ooh, I really love pizza!' and they all go off on a tangent -- but then at some point you have to bring them back and say, 'Okay! We're talking about a circle!'"

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