What do you love about teaching at Visitation?
Visitation is my alma mater, so I love that I’m part of a family and a sisterhood that had a great impact on who I am as a person; I love that now I get to give back to Visitation and have an impact on the place. I also really love the students! I have taught at two other high schools, and I’ve concluded that there are no girls on earth like Visi girls. They are eager and enthusiastic to learn, they’re fun-loving and cheerful, and they’re interested in the world around them. They make teaching fun for me. I also really love working in a place that has the traditions and presence of the Sisters and their Salesian charism. My colleagues also make this a wonderful place to work, and I’ve made lifelong friends here among them.
What are some of the ways you bring lessons to life?
All juniors read American literature, so in AP Language I’m teaching many of the classic works like “The Scarlet Letter,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “The Great Gatsby,” but also I teach less traditional novels such as “The Things They Carried,” “Native Son,” and “All the King’s Men,” as well as nonfiction by Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, George Orwell, and Nora Ephron. Through all of these works, we examine literature and why it resonates beyond the time it was written, connecting those themes and ideas to the present—through faith, war, race, politics, gender, class, what it means to be human, what it means to be an American.
Tell us briefly about the junior-year research project.
In creating my current research paper project, I was motivated to have students look into a topic they first see in literature, then research how it connects to reality, eventually drawing a parallel to the present. I want them to see why great literature resonates with us and sheds light on our condition as human beings; how we also can learn about ourselves as well as others through reading fiction. After reading three novels—“The Things They Carried” about the Vietnam War, “Native Son” about racism and its effects, and “All the King’s Men” about politics and personal responsibility—they choose to focus on the concept of war, race, or politics in any way they deem worthy of 10 to 12 pages of research (with my approval, of course!).
In what ways does our Salesian charism inform and inspire your work with students?
I love the St. Francis de Sales maxim “Be who you are and be that well to give honor to the Master craftsman whose handiwork you are.” I think it encourages us and our students to embrace our individuality and love ourselves as creations of God, but at the same time to recognize that uniqueness in everyone. I think it’s a very prescient thought, and one that really resonates today—that we’re all blessed with differences that make us unique, and we’re still all made to be who we are by a God who loves us. I think of this a lot, both as an English teacher and someone passionately involved in diversity work.
What is the Kaleidoscope Multicultural Club like and how does it enhance the school?
Kaleidoscope provides any student of any grade a place to come every Monday to share her voice, or just listen to those of her peers, and to discuss anything on her mind relating to issues of diversity and social justice. Each year the club is different to a degree because it’s driven by the students within it, what’s happening in the school or the world, and what the girls feel strongly about discussing. I love this club because I get to know students in a totally different way, and I’m always struck by the wide variety of students interested in being a part of it.
Each year, the club plans and hosts a school-wide Diversity Day, based on a theme that the members have chosen. I think every student on campus gets something out of Kaleidoscope, regardless of whether she’s in the club or not, because of this annual program and its thought-provoking presentations. We’ve started a tradition of bringing Kaleidoscope graduates back to campus on Diversity Day to share their thoughts. Seeing what they are doing out in the world reinforces why this club is worthwhile; these are really women who make a difference.
Peggy has taught at Visitation for more than 20 years. She has a B.A. in American Studies from Georgetown University and an M.A. in American History from George Mason University.