Ask an educator: Carson discusses finding her passion

Monitor staff
Published: 4/19/2021 4:18:57 PM

Sarah Carson hasn’t always been an English teacher, but a career change three years ago allowed her to pursue her passion of sharing literature with students.

Carson, 42, a ninth and tenth grade English teacher at Pittsfield Middle High School, has taught in the district for three years after spending most of her career in marketing. She said becoming an educator was something didn’t realize she could do mid-career, but would recommend it to anyone who is interested.

“I’ve had students ask randomly in class, ‘Mrs. Carson why are you a teacher? Sometimes we’re so awful.’ I said ‘well you’re teenagers, so some of it I expect!’ and I explained to them how much I love to share literature,” Carson said. “If anybody that was ready to either make a switch or make a decision about a career asked me, I’d say if you’re even thinking about it go be a substitute. You don’t know unless you give it a try.”

This year she has taught in both hybrid and remote models. Carson said some of her favorite moments as an educator are when the teachers do fun activities like dressing up during spirit week, causing shenanigans on St. Patrick’s Day and participate in karaoke contests against students.

Carson lives in Northwood with her husband and stepson, two greyhound dogs, ten chickens and a mouse named Henry Jekyll. Carson sat down with the Concord Monitor recently to discuss teaching English during COVID-19. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

What has been the biggest challenge with teaching English during COVID-19?

For me, as a ninth and tenth grade teacher it’s really been the relationship-building. I really thrive and pride myself on those relationships with the students. You can get so much more out of them if you have some kind of connection on some level. I have freshman I have never met before. They haven’t been to school, they haven’t turned their cameras on, I can see their pictures next to their name when I look them up but I’ve never met them before. Not having the connection and the relationship with the student, especially at the ninth grade level, has been a huge, huge barrier this year.

Do you think this year has impacted the way you’ll approach teaching in the future?

It definitely has, it’s provided some new opportunities for us to learn different ways to teach students. Before COVID everything was physical, we did physical projects, packets and handouts. So switching to a remote atmosphere where everything needed to be digital, there are some things I’d definitely keep. We have some kids who have really thrived in this atmosphere. For other students, it’s been a real struggle having things on a computer. It’s this delicate balance right now of what can I physically give them to do, but I also want to offer this digitally because so many kids have thrived on their laptop or computer.

What got you interested in teaching English?

I made a big, big career change in 2017 and decided I wanted to switch to education. I was in marketing for many, many years and I just knew that was not where my passion was. I found my passion at Pittsfield. I have a Masters in English, it’s something I always loved. I had a huge influencer, when I was in high school, my ninth grade English teacher was somebody who I looked up to, I loved his class. I knew that I did want to do something with teaching, I just never knew there was an alternate route to it. I always thought that if I didn’t go to college to be a teacher right after high school that there wasn’t a way for me to accomplish that dream that I had. It wasn’t until I was at Pittsfield, looking to change gears that I learned about the opportunities that New Hampshire has to offer with their alternative programs. Given my education, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. It’s something I’ve always worked for, I just hadn’t had the opportunity to share it with anybody yet.

What are your favorite things to teach?

I do a passion project with my students. They get to choose their research topic (based on approval from me) and we go through this whole research process, and they get to learn whatever it is they want to learn about, they can expand on it and really dive into it. Having a passion project for the kids where they can guide their own research and I’m not telling them what to do its a lot of fun. We do a showcase at the end, everybody presents their projects and tells each other what they learned. When I did passion projects last year it was during the time of the Hong Kong protests, COVID was coming, so they would take those interests and start to explore. They would get into some social issues, a lot of teens did social anxiety, mental health exploration, they would explore possible career paths as well.

What inspires you as an educator?

Right now I’m an eleventh grade advisor, so I’m getting ready to plan students’ futures, essentially. As an advisor in Pittsfield we play a huge role. We’re the ones who help them do their career exploration, their college planning, their explorations, we take on a real guidance role. Watching the growth over the years, I love that. And in my physical classes it’s the ‘aha’ moment where they ‘get it,’ the hands start flying up, and they are participating because something has clicked. The ‘aha’ moment – you get chills.

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