By Josh Raymer
When asked to explain what has brought them back for 13 years of teaching Be a Writer at SCATS, Bonnie Honaker and Linda Martin used the noise inside their classroom as the answer. “These students are hungry for socialization with peers who are at their same level,” Bonnie explained. “Look at the excitement that you’re hearing right now.”
The breathless chatter of excited students filled the air along with laughs and the typical sounds that accompany the start of class – desks scooting along the tile floor, backpacks being unzipped, and materials being readied for an influx of new knowledge.
“These kids just met today!” Bonnie added. “It’s fantastic – a teacher’s dream.”
There are various reasons why veteran SCATS teachers return year after year for two weeks of hands-on, minds-on learning. The students’ excitement at building new connections with “idea mates” is one. Chad Snyder, a 4-year veteran teaching Dragons, Chemistry, Science, and The Hobbit, said the passion he sees for learning has kept him coming back. “I love the students’ enthusiasm for my subject material,” he said.
One of the perks of teaching at SCATS is the freedom to develop exciting and unique curriculum. Unbound by the restrictions found in a typical classroom, Chad and his fellow teachers are able to focus on developing material that fits the demanding academic needs of these advanced students. “The material is my sole responsibility,” Chad said. “It can then be flexible without the worries of sticking to a set of content.”
Jim Fulkerson, a 27-year SCATS veteran, had three different classes to prepare for this summer – Career Decision Making, Stagecraft, and Musical Troupe. Since moving from the public school system to a university setting in 1986, Jim has missed getting to teach music, his true passion, and getting to work with junior high-aged students.
“This gives me the opportunity to work with a lot of really talented young people,” he shared. “It’s amazing what they can accomplish. They have nine practice days to prepare for a 30-minute production, and they do a better job than some choirs I’ve had in the past.”
As most teachers will attest, the best part of teaching is getting to work with the students. A similar refrain was heard from these four veteran SCATS teachers, who were asked to describe the traits they saw in SCATS campers. “Interested, invested, and curious,” Chad replied. “Creative and passionate,” Bonnie added. “They have the opportunity to come out of their shell,” Jim answered. “I see kids who want a chance to become leaders.”
“They want to learn,” Linda explained. “Most of them will tell you they’re bored in their regular classroom and they want to be pushed.”
Finding new ways to push their students is looked at as a joy and not a challenge for veteran SCATS teachers. “We look for ideas all year long,” Bonnie said. “What we’re finding is these students aren’t doing that much writing in their regular classrooms, so any opportunities we can give them to write, they eat it up.”
Jim approached each new summer by mindfully preparing. “If you’re not careful as an instructor and keep doing the same activities, you become like a robot. Then you lose the joy. I constantly change what I’m doing,” he said. Chad kept his approach simple, saying, “I never do the same exact content twice.”
The reasons teachers return to SCATS are bound to vary from one class to another. Some teachers appreciate the freedom to craft creative curriculum. Others love the challenge of reinventing their class with each passing summer. Many simply enjoy the pre-class chatter of students who are eager to learn with new friends. The one thing every teacher agrees on, though, is that the students make SCATS special.
“Being able to work with these high-energy, high-achieving students makes my summer,” Bonnie admitted. “They love what they’re doing, which makes us love what we’re doing.”