Staying ahead of the curve with summer classes

Courtney KeefeIn May, Courtney Keefe will finish her master of education from MCLA. Summer sessions helped keep her on track as she earned her degree.

A full-time history teacher at Hoosac Valley High School in Adams, Mass., Keefe took four graduate-level courses in summer 2019, split over MCLA’s three sessions, which each run over 3-4 weeks. “You can focus on one class at a time, which is really convenient,” she said. “You’re not getting any less of the content or the skills you would if you took it during a full semester. When you’re with a smaller cohort, it adds to the community and collaborative atmosphere. If you can meet the requirements in a shorter amount of time, why wouldn’t you?”

The summer sessions allowed Keefe to concentrate on her students during the school year and lighten her own course load, which became particularly important in the following year, when schools had to pivot to remote learning and adapt to ensure their students would stay engaged.

Keefe also did summer courses as an undergrad at MCLA; she earned a bachelor’s degree in history and education, and was hired at HVHS after doing her field placement there. She continued to take advantage of the summer schedule through her MEd experience, which also helped preserve time for her to continue teaching evening dance classes during the school year.

In the summer, “you also have the free time to really ponder what you’re learning,” Keefe said. “You have time to think about how you’re going to apply it to your pedagogy and your own teaching practice.”

As a teacher, Keefe is constantly thinking in this way as she moves along in her own educational journey. She especially loves teaching her students about World War I and II, and exposing her students to the sociological concepts that drive history and change people’s attitudes over time.

Growing up in Pittsfield, she had history teachers who inspired her to take her love of reading, writing, and research into a teaching career. Maggie Harrington-Esko, now principal at Pittsfield High, and Patricia Curry, now-retired PHS Social Studies Department head, “were mentors to me, and great female role models,” she said. “They always made the story of humanity seem more interesting than you would expect.”

As she prepares to finish her MEd, Keefe is looking forward to a break from school this summer, but she’s still thinking deeply about her dedication to her own education, and how that can impact her students at HVHS. “You expect them to be reflective, so you need to be reflective,” she said. “You are the role model. If you can’t model what you expect of your students, it’s probably not going to work.”