Christine Leonard, 26, is an explorer with promise.
Each day the Central Catholic English teacher and her students explore ideas such as pride and sacrifice and conflict.
She stands and teaches on familiar ground, the very school, Central Catholic, from which she graduated in 2006; and even the very classroom where she once sat and learned from another English teacher, Karen Moynihan.
Leonard’s promise was recognized this fall with an award from the New England Association of Teachers of English — the 2014 Marion Gleason Award as Most Promising Teacher.
But to better recognize her promise as a teacher is less to know she has won an award and more to witness Leonard and students in action – talking about classes and learning and each other.
On a fall afternoon students filter into the second-floor classroom after an assembly on distracted driving.
Distractions are many for students, even more so than when she was a student a few short years ago, before graduating from Stonehill College with an undergraduate degree and UNH with a master’s, she says.
Leonard and her classmates didn’t tweet or post to Facebook every day back in high school; today, many students do both — and more frequently than daily.
When it comes to exploring characters in her Heroes and Villains or Senior Honors classes, technology is but a tool to understand the world of literature’s presentation of the human condition.
Even as students today move about with less privacy and more stimuli they are creative and competitive, she says.
She gives them outlets for creativity and competition, with an eye towards then developing keener thinking and understanding.
Student James Velez, whose class with Leonard is now studying the Canterbury Tales, says students recently got to pick from a group of characters, among them the Squire, the Cook and the Wife of Bath, and to create a skit.
Students reading The Hobbit, forged a riddle.
Students say they feel comfortable being challenged to create or to back up their ideas with examples from texts they are reading.
“If we challenge each other, we both grow,” said Velez.
Carlos Gonzalez doesn’t have Leonard for a teacher this year but she is still working with him, helping him hone his writing skills as he writes his college entrance essay.
He said Leonard was one of the first teachers to encourage him to write, and to improve his writing.
Students feel comfortable with a teacher who is comfortable with herself, able to laugh at her self.
She is respectful of students and will not embarrass them.
Student Jeffrey Arrajj said Leonard connects with students. She is comfortable bringing popular culture into the mix while discussing ideas.
The teacher says she and her students read literature — Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, MacBeth, The Hobbit, A Prayer for Owen Meany, To Kill a Mockingbird — to learn from the characters’ mistakes, to learn to think more critically.
“I want them to connect with the characters,” Leonard says. “I encourage them to take the side of a character and debate positive traits and negative traits.”
Leonard is in her third year at the school. She was nervous in the very beginning of her but soon settled into being herself and doing what she always wanted to do, what she always wants to do — teach.
“I have a really cool job,” she says.
She gets to laugh and learn every day.
Her experience is not unlike that of the Clerk in the Canterbury Tales:
“And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.”
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