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Teacher's extra duties add to students' comfort

October 04, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Editor's note: This is the first in a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County high schools. Next month: Boonsboro High School.




scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - As a science teacher at Antietam Academy, Peggy Feiser's work habits include some tasks not typically done by public schoolteachers, including making pancakes.

For some of the school's students, getting a warm meal is a rare treat, said Feiser, 45. Some of the same students also have problems attending school regularly, she said.

The hope is that students will make a point of being at school every second Monday when Feiser cooks and flips pancakes, wearing her science lab apron, she said.

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The making and serving of the pancakes, which started this fall, also increases the students' comfort level with the school, said Feiser, of Leitersburg.

"They love it. It provides a nice comfortable atmosphere," she said.

Feiser has taught in Washington County schools for six years. Among her previous jobs was teaching at a private boot camp for five years, she said.

Antietam Academy has a lower teacher-to-student ratio than other schools in the school system, with Feiser averaging about five students per class, she said. That is because students at Antietam Academy were sent there from other high schools, she said.

Some students were sent to the academy after breaking school rules, such as possessing drugs, alcohol or weapons, she said.

Others were sent because they were disruptive, uncooperative or not able to do their work, she said.

The smaller class size lets Feiser and other teachers at the school provide more individual attention to each student.

Antietam Academy Principal Ivan "Ike" Williams said Feiser and the school are a perfect fit.

"My kids present a very difficult challenge. They come to us with a lot of needs. It takes a very special individual, and I think Peggy is that individual who can meet their emotional needs and their academic needs. It is a balance there," he said.

Just as the student-to-teacher ratio is different, so is the pace of instruction, Feiser said.

As she puts it: "I have to give smaller bites."

Some of the students can get overwhelmed easily, she said.

"What looks like laziness and defiance is often frustration and a sense of incompetence," she said.

"They can do the work and they are happy to do the work if I can get it to them in manageable pieces."

For example, a 10th-grade student in other county schools could be handed a compass and assigned to draw the solar system in proper scale and that student probably would be able to do it, she said.

In her classes, she would have to first hand students a compass and explain how it works, and have them practice with it before moving on to drawing the solar system, she said.

Her favorite part of teaching is "when students are able to do things they thought they could not. For instance, they look at a paper and say, 'This is too hard,'" she said.

"If I can find a way to get them to work through it and get a little confidence in their own ability ... they will surprise themselves and find out they really can do it," she said.

Feiser is the school's lead teacher, which means along with other responsibilities, she is in charge of the school when Williams is absent, she said.

Williams said he placed her in that role because she is a solid, good leader.

Feiser said she, along with other teachers at the school, sometimes drives to students' homes and takes them to school to ensure they get there.

But such action has to be carefully considered because they do not want the students to expect rides from teachers on a regular basis, she said.

"You have to balance enabling them with encouraging them," she said.

Appropriately, a recent interview with Feiser was interrupted when a student who missed his bus asked for a ride home.

She provided him with a ride after the interview was completed.

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