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There are many things I love about being a language arts course instructor at CMASAS. I have the luxury of one-on-one support which means more opportunities to truly know my students. I can target my teaching to where they need it most. And because each student needs something different from me, I can’t grow complacent. I must be a constant learner to support CMASAS learners. I must adapt and grow myself just as I expect them to. All these things are a delight to me and are deeply embedded in a student-centered model like ours. But perhaps my favorite part of being a teacher here is sharing my love of my subject with my students. I love stories and the craft of writing. I love talking to students about stories and writing. Perhaps most of all, I love when students find their own love of these same things in ways that are wholly theirs.

A couple years ago a student from my Cinema as Literature course asked me to write her a recommendation letter. Our wonderful counselor, Heidi Fox, coaches students to give more information about their accomplishments and goals when they ask for recommendations. That extra information allows instructors to connect their knowledge and skills to wider goals in the recommendation letter. This particular student had enrolled at CMASAS during COVID. She had only ever attended public brick-and-mortar schools in the past, and the only reason she was at CMASAS was because of the pandemic.

When she asked for my recommendation, she told me the Cinema as Literature course had inspired her to study film. She said she wouldn’t have known how much she loved telling stories if she hadn’t had the option to make short films for her assignments. She ended her email with something that made me tear up: “I didn’t think I was a good student before I came here. I thought that’s just how it was. And then I took courses here, and I realized I was a good student.”

She had turned in thoughtful work all throughout the course. She asked questions and truly engaged with the lessons. For projects, she made me short films that featured her sisters. Some were in black and white. Some were a little campy. Most made me laugh out loud. All had scenes that were beautifully shot and edited. Every film told well-constructed, even poignant stories. The thought of this wonderfully creative person not thinking she was a good student made me sad. But at the same time, I was so grateful she had found her confidence.  

This student’s experience is the perfect example of why I love teaching here. I got to share my love of my subject in a way that changed the course of a student’s life. And the reason that shared love made such an impact was because she got to engage with it on her terms. I didn’t do anything special. I did what all our course instructors would do for a student. I allowed her to approach the course in the way that worked best for her. She could have written an essay, or answered some short answer questions, or even taken a traditional quiz. But instead, she made little movies and engaged with the material in her way. And that ultimately taught her that she was a good student who had worthy knowledge and skills to share with the world. That’s about all any educator can ask for.

written by: Kim Fowler