A Lifelong Learner
When French teacher Sue Michalski received Williston’s Hagedorn Family Faculty Chair, in 2014, the award came with an actual chair, which Sue placed in her office. But thanks to the accompanying five year-stipend, Sue has been able to do the opposite of sitting around. In recent years she has used the funds to travel to Martinique and Quebec City, and is now planning a more extensive trip to Paris next year. “I try to get to French-speaking places, where I can immerse myself in the culture and then bring back whatever I can to my classroom,” she explains. “You can’t replace that face-to-face contact. And keeping myself current is probably the best thing I can do for my students.”
Sue’s past trip to Martinique offers an example of just how travel can lead to classroom enrichment. “We had read in our textbook about a particular fishing village, and I had the opportunity to go there,” she explains. While in the village, she was able to take part in an unusual community tradition. The fishermen set their nets along the shore of a small beach, then all the townspeople—and any visitors who happen to be on hand—help haul in the daily catch. “I took video and photos,” says Sue, “and I could share that experience with my class, which was much deeper than anything we had read our textbook.”
Sue also recently completed her Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership degree through the partnership program set up two years ago between Williston and Mount Holyoke College. For her capstone project, she studied the first-year experience of new teachers at boarding schools and developed a video-conferencing mentoring program, which Mount Holyoke is looking to integrate into its MATL curriculum, she says.
Returning to the classroom, like interacting with villagers in distant countries, serves a personal purpose for Sue: it lets her model the bravery, curiosity, and love of learning she expects from her students. “I teach immersion French and push kids out of their comfort zone constantly,” she explains. “Walking into a classroom, never having had any French—that’s terrifying. So I wanted to walk the talk and say, even at 42 years old, I am also trying something new and different. That was important to me.”