Camelot Teacher Profile: Cassandra Miller
An alumnus of Bowling Green State University, Cassandra Miller is in her third year as an English teacher at Excel South in Philadelphia. After her time student teaching in suburban school districts in Ohio she never expected to find her way to an alternative school like Camelot. But, when the opportunity came to teach in a more urban setting at Excel South she was happy to take it.
Did you ever expect to be teaching at an alternative education school?
I didn’t, I went to school in Ohio and did all my student teaching in suburban schools. But, when I got the opportunity to teach at Camelot I jumped on it, I always wanted to teach in a more urban setting.
What do you enjoy most about teaching English?
I love really interacting with the kids; I love writing with them mostly. A lot of English is based around reading, but I generally base my classes around writing. I love reading what the kids have to say, they have so many interesting stories and so many interesting things to say about life. They give me a new way of looking at things a lot of times. Anything that gets them writing, and writing with one another I think is really cool.
What books do you enjoy discussing in your classroom?
We did the boy in the striped pajamas which tells the story of the Holocaust. I didn’t expect my students to be as in to it as they were but every one of my students was pulling up videos, finding new information and wanting to go to museums. That wasn’t something I was expecting.
Also, this year I did The First Part Last, an urban novel about teen pregnancy. I try to do classic literature that they probably haven’t read but they’ve heard of it before as well. I’m able to switch it up depending on what topics that class is interested in.
Do you enjoy being able to tailor what you teach to your students interest?
I find it really beneficial actually; if I start something and see that no kids are buying into it it’s nice to be able to choose something different that I know they will be interested in. I was able to order, “The First Part Last” because it was something they were interested in thus they were more into the discussions and I saw a bigger group of kids participating in my lessons when they could all have something to say about it rather than feeling like they were out of the loop.
How would you say Camelot norms contribute to the success of students and your overall classroom environment?
I think it’s really beneficial and it’s especially helpful with our interaction with the kids. They always know what’s expected from them, so it’s not odd if I ask a kid to sit up straight or to tuck their shirt in, it’s stuff that they are going to have to get used to when they go out into the working world and a lot of kids really buy into that.
It also makes teaching a lot easier because as a result of the norms we have fewer distractions to worry about. Every other kid is dressing the same, following the norms, not chewing gum and everything else so it makes it easier for them to concentrate on what they’re actually learning.
What expectations do you have for your students?
I encourage a lot of my students to go do something else once they graduate; it may be a job or school or following some kind of career path. I check in with every one of them whether it’s writing letters of recommendation, helping fill out job applications, to show them that they shouldn’t just be graduating and not having a plan. Most of the time they are worried about other people; students often say my mom wanted me to do this, or I can’t go to school because I’m helping this person out with money. I really encourage them to focus on themselves a little bit because a lot of them have never been able to do that. Encouraging them to focus on themselves and their future is really important to me.
Why have you stayed with Camelot?
It’s really rewarding and the relationship you build with the staff and the students is a lot stronger than I think it would be at a bigger public school or a public school in general. I have a good relationship with a lot of the students and they know they can trust us outside of academics. Overall, it’s just a good environment to be in.