October 25, 2019
It's Stephanie Kopala’s third year as Drury's director of curriculum and instruction. “I’m in charge of the teachers in the building — it’s similar to an assistant principal position,” she said.
Timing is everything. Stephanie Kopala ’06, M.Ed. ’10, didn’t know that when she chose to complete her student teaching internship at Drury High School in North Adams, she would still be working there 14 years later.
“One of the best choices I made was doing my student teaching at Drury, because it’s sort of like a four-month-long interview,” Kopala, who majored in history for her undergraduate degree, said about her 2005 decision. When one of the school’s history teachers decided to retire the following year, a coveted spot suddenly became available. “I’m sure there were a lot of qualified applicants, because there aren’t many history teaching jobs that come up,” Kopala said. “I’m not sure I would’ve gotten the job if I hadn’t been a student teacher here.” She applied in June and was offered the position in July, allowing her to begin her teaching career immediately after graduation.
Since then, Kopala has accumulated an impressive CV, serving as a Keys to Literacy coach, a North Adams Teachers Association co-chair (2013-2017), and an AP reader who annually scores world history essays. In May 2016, Kopala was the recipient of the Berkshire County Educator Recognition Award (7-12).
It is Kopala’s third year as Drury's director of curriculum and instruction. “I’m in charge of the teachers in the building — it’s similar to an assistant principal position,” she said, “and my primary job is working with teachers to improve their curriculum and instruction.”
This is her second year teaching College World History, an MCLA dual enrollment course. The class allows students at Drury to take a college course instead of an AP class, from which they’ll earn three college credits at no cost. Kopala related the story of a recent Drury graduate who, by way of AP and dual enrollment classes, bypassed his entire freshman year at RPI, saving $67,000 and starting as a sophomore.
In September 2019, Kopala was selected to take part in a teacher workshop run by Harvard Business School. She says the national program has so far trained 357 teachers in the Harvard case method of teaching, which focuses on promoting democracy. The three-day workshop in Cambridge, Mass., was a chance for high school teachers to work directly with the Harvard professor who created the program. Kopala is now able to offer four of these case study classes, the same ones taught to Harvard first-year students, to her Drury students each year, at no cost.
“Drury is now getting these high-quality resources for free, forever,” says Kopala. Each case study takes an event from history — the coal strike of 1906, Martin Luther King Jr.’s March from Selma, the 1787 Constitutional Convention — and lets students debate the event and decide the outcome. Only then do they learn how history really played out. Kopala said this makes learning much more engaging for her students. “The goal is for students to find history and politics more interesting than when they started, so they’ll hopefully be more civically engaged,” she said. “They leave my room talking about politics, so it seems to be working.”
Kopala said earning her master’s degree from MCLA was an important step in her career, especially the process of writing her thesis, which focused on classroom management. “Now I help other teachers with classroom management, so the sustained research I did for my thesis has been very valuable.”
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