Ms. Henry lives in Brattleboro, VT with her husband, Matt, and two daughters, Sydney ’19 and Abby. You can also find her roaming the woods with her two crazy labs, Callie and Maisy. She enjoys spending time with family and friends and traveling the globe whenever she can.
When did you know you wanted to start teaching?
I was considered an excellent athlete throughout high school, so I just assumed that I wanted to do something related to athletics in college. After being accepted to the University of Vermont, I found out they had a rigorous and well-known physical therapy program that I applied to as well. I envisioned wrapping ankles for the Boston Celtics and rehabbing athletes when they injured themselves. However, once I got deeper into the physical therapy program, I realized I wasn’t truly being fulfilled academically. I started taking some sociology and history classes and absolutely fell in love with the content these classes were exploring, particularly around gender and women's studies. I remember calling my father in my sophomore year of college and letting him know that I wanted to change majors and completely alter my academic path. I ended up double majoring in history and sociology and the deeper I got in these classes, the more passionate I became. I wanted to talk about everything I was learning. I pictured myself having these very intimate discussions with people about historical events and sociological topics and I thought to myself, maybe I need to be in a classroom. So right after graduation, I applied to UVM’s Masters Program in the Art of Teaching and went directly into that. And the rest is, literally history.
Are your classroom lessons currently covering more social events than ever before?
I’m chuckling because, yes, very much so. For me, my number one priority every time I go into the classroom is to make sure marginalized voices and perspectives are heard and recognized. Having grown up as a woman, issues around gender have always been a focus for me. Now more than ever, given the political and social climate that we live in, my lessons are based around making sure multiple perspectives are seen, heard, accepted, and appreciated. The first thing I did after the murder of George Floyd was to call our then department head and tell him we needed to reflect on and consider changing our course offerings and curriculum. We have a responsibility, as a department, and as educators, to do this. Our curriculum must reflect the changing nature of our society and this will be our number one priority.
Math and the sciences are under pressure to meet specific, measurable assessment points. How does this work for history and humanities?
In terms of assessment and where kids need to be in the math and sciences, do we have less pressure to meet specific benchmarks? Probably. Do we have less pressure to teach kids how to think critically and be active participants in our society? Absolutely not. I would argue there is more pressure and importance than ever to do this. The current political and social climates, as well as the pandemic, are all things this country has faced before. The things that kids are learning in the humanities, the critical thinking skills, the historical developments and movements that have made us who and what we are, are so crucial to our national understanding. Students need to appreciate the origins and roots of the issues they are facing today. They need to understand what being an engaged and involved citizen looks like. If they don't understand the history and the social connections behind the issues we all face today, then how do we truly move forward together?
Is there anything in the education system that you think should be addressed with urgency?
I am currently enrolled in Boston College and pursuing a master's degree in educational policy, with a specific focus on social justice policy. I truly believe that the greatest way to reform an institution is through its policy. So yes, I absolutely believe there are issues within our educational system that need to be addressed with urgency. We lack educational equity in this country. We have policies that benefit some groups over others. Policy needs to reflect and be sensitive to cultural challenges that many of our marginalized communities face. The work in my current degree program is preparing me to help make these much-needed changes in our educational system.
Tell me about Vermont Academy's History curriculum goals. What do we hope that students gain from our humanities program?
The humanities can and do teach critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze, how to form an opinion, and how to form an informed opinion. So in terms of what we can offer, we can offer kids the opportunity to think critically about and analyze a variety of subjects. We can help them find their voice. Being able to express and articulate that voice is ultimately the greatest skill we can offer our Vermont Academy students in the humanities departments.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being a teacher?
This past year has presented many challenges in the classroom because teachers are human beings. The things that are happening to our world greatly affect all of us. We think and feel and have opinions and are emotional. The real challenge for me this year has been to understand and realize that kids have multiple perspectives and influences. They are allowed to have opinions that don’t align with my own. The challenge comes from learning to teach in a way that all of those perspectives feel safe, while also asking kids to challenge themselves and their thinking. It’s not the little things that challenge me anymore, it’s the big questions regarding educational philosophy, who I am as a teacher and how I will continue to grow that continually challenge me.
What keeps you motivated in the classroom?
When you have been in a career for a long time, you constantly ask yourself that question. I decided to go back to school and work full time, which is a wonderful personal challenge and motivator. However, what keeps me motivated in the classroom has not changed in 24 years. There is nothing more exciting, or motivating, or inspiring to me than being in a classroom with teenagers. They make me laugh, they make me upset, they make me crazy. But everyday I get to walk into these different groups of kids, and they are all so amazing and have huge hearts; they just make me smile. The energy that the students at Vermont Academy give me is the thing that keeps me coming back year after year.
What do you think parents can do better in helping you to be a successful teacher?
I am a parent, so I completely understand the parent perspective. I am still trying to figure it out myself, but there is a beautiful balance of being involved and helping to guide your child, but also being hands off enough to allow them to make mistakes and fail. We want to see our children succeed, succeed, succeed, and yet we have to let them experience mistakes in order to grow. Parents are constantly looking for that balance. I also think that it takes a great deal of trust to send your child to boarding school and it’s Vermont Academy’s job to earn that trust. I always feel grateful when parents put their trust in me.
What is uniquely special about Vermont Academy?
I am going to quote a dear colleague of mine: “Vermont Academy is the place for you if you like having adults in your life.” It really comes down to the idea that every student at VA is seen and heard by the faculty and staff on this campus. Our kids do not slip through the cracks -- it’s simply not possible. Adults at VA are committed to making sure they are in a student's life in multiple capacities. And that, quite frankly, I haven't seen at other schools. Teachers are allowed to have an autonomy and an independence in their relationships with kids that works for them, and therefore the relationships that can be created are organic and unique to this school. My daughter is living proof of this. Vermont Academy took care of her in such a holistic and loving way. She graduated knowing she was cared for, loved, and truly accepted for who she was. I am forever grateful that I was able to see the beauty and power of the VA community with my own child. Vermont Academy is simply magical.