BRATTLEBORO -- Over the course of two semesters this year, Kate Burt and Ashley Nadeau will have taught almost all the ninth graders at Brattleboro Union High School. Every day, Burt teaches six Health classes and Nadeau teaches six Diversity classes. While Burt has taught for five years and this is Nadeau's first teaching job, both are in their first year at BUHS.
Nadeau, who was born in Bath, Maine, went to college in Maine and then worked for Americorps, the Chewonki Foundation, and the Appalachian Mountain Club before deciding to go back to school to earn a master's degree and teacher certification. Then she moved to Vermont.
"I've always liked Vermont," she said. "I came to visit my brother when he was a student at Vermont Tech, and I'd always heard that public education in Vermont was a really good place to work in terms of resources, in terms of priorities, in terms of equal opportunities for all students. It seemed like a place I might like to be.
"Jobs in Social Studies are hard to come by these days, and I was willing to relocate," she continued. "I was really impressed by both BUHS and the area, and thought it would be a good place for a first teaching job. Diversity as a specific course was really unique and it was an opportunity I wasn't going to get anywhere else."
Burt grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., area, and majored in health education at the State University of New York at Brockport.
"Right out of college I got a job teaching middle-school health in Springfield, and I spent the last five years up there," Burt said. "When I was teaching in Springfield, I got a master's in education through Antioch, in their Experienced Educators program.
"Health class is a requirement for graduation," she said. "It focuses on the students' social, physical and emotional health. The different units include nutrition; alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention; and there's a sexuality unit, a unit on stress management and one on injury prevention. Right now we're working on communication and healthy relationships."
Burt believes that part of her job is helping students transition from eighth grade to high school.
"While I know that their social lives are really important and I work hard to help them develop a positive classroom community -- some of the topics that we talk about are really sensitive -- I also work to help them realize that schoolwork is important, too," she said. "One thing I work hard with them on is making sure they're really polite when asking questions and making comments about certain topics, because they have no idea what backgrounds other people have as far as what their friends and family have been through."
She said that she enjoyed working with ninth graders.
"I really like the higher level of conversation I can have with students here after teaching at the middle-school level," she commented. "The way that they can talk about themselves is at a higher level, and their self-advocacy is a lot better."
Nadeau also appreciates the opportunity to teach the ninth graders -- all of them.
"I ultimately love that I get to meet everybody in the freshman class," she said. "I've gotten to know all the freshmen, and in a couple of years I'll know everyone in the school, which is a really great thing.
"I also love having a lot of freedom to design curriculum," she went on. "It's kind of unusual not to have a lot of pre-set topics, and it's great to have the opportunity to design things to engage students in what will interest them."
She noted that she has been able to build on her predecessors' work in the Diversity course.
"The course has been in existence for a while; I'm the third Diversity teacher BUHS has had," she said. "There are some things in place already. My priorities are that students use their own experiences in the world to try to understand the experiences of others, and try to learn about differences among people -- which differences are important and which aren't, and how these differences and attitudes impact how people treat each other.
"In terms of specific things that we study, I suspect that will change every semester," she continued. "When I knew I had this job, I was saving everything. Everything was in the news about Paula Deen and the Trayvon Martin case. It's sort of upsetting -- you don't have to look very far to find examples of discrimination in the news every day. As much as possible, I like to incorporate things that are going on in the class."
As a new teacher, Nadeau expressed gratitude for her full-time teaching internships, one in a middle-school and one in a high school.
"Both of those taught me that there's no normal day for a teacher, so I was prepared for that," she said.
Maggie Cassidy teaches French at Brattleboro Union High School.