John Amos is the chair of the English department and teaches English 300 to third formers (9th graders) in addition to a section of English 600 Honors, an elective on Shakespeare.
Taylor Casey teaches Spanish I and a fifth-form (11th grade) biology course.
Taaj Davis teaches the third-form history course, Stories and Histories: An Introduction to a Historical Analysis.
Q: How interactive are your classes?
John Amos: I’ve been teaching for forty-one years, and the only way I know how to do it well is to get students talking about things that matter. Discussion is a major part of my class.
Taaj Davis: I try to make my classes as discussion-based as possible, centering the lesson plans around students rather than around myself as the teacher. Students interact with my classes by asking questions, proposing responses to essential questions, and at times even creating and presenting original raps about historical topics.
Q: What are consultation periods?
John Amos: Consultation periods are one of the most important parts of the Woodberry experience. Teachers’ schedules are designed so we always have time to meet individually with our students. This is tremendously important in English because it means we can work one-on-one to help students improve their writing.
Taaj Davis: Consultation periods are an opportunity for students to collaborate with one another and with their teachers. Students often schedule consultations with me to review for a test or to workshop an essay.
Q: How do you communicate with parents to let them know grades, issues, etc.? How often can I contact you?
Taylor Casey: Sometimes parents will email me directly with questions or concerns about their son, which is definitely welcome, but most often I’ve found that parents will contact their son’s advisor. The advisors consistently communicate with teachers regarding different students' situations and their grades/issues.
Taaj Davis: There is no “right way” to communicate with all parents, so it depends on the preferences of the parents. With parents who are more hands off, I tend to communicate with them via comments and grades. However, some parents opt to be more hands on, and in that case, I might send email updates or schedule calls with them to keep them up to speed regarding their child. Either way, I always welcome communication from parents.
Q: What is a typical homework assignment for your class?
John Amos: I don’t think there’s any such thing as typical homework in English. However, we regularly assign reading, a variety of writing, grammar exercises, vocabulary study, and such.
Taaj Davis: A typical homework assignment for my class would include seven to ten pages of reading, paired with a handful of essential questions to help guide their reading and their notes. Homework assignments ensure that students come to class having already pondered the material, making them more prone to confidently engage in class discussions.
Q: How do you balance academic rigor with emotional well-being?
Taylor Casey: I’ve found that my students love to share how they are feeling — all of the minor inconveniences they face as well as heavier conversations. The faculty and staff at Woodberry are genuinely invested in student learning, but more importantly, student well-being. The fact that we live life alongside the students provides us unique opportunities to have important conversations and check-in on the emotional well-being of students. The little conversations on the way to dinner in the dining hall, or in the morning before class, are frequent ways that I check-in with my students daily.
Taaj Davis: I find it valuable to check-in with my students on a social-emotional level as much as possible. The world of Woodberry is brand new to third formers, and they often want to share some of these novel experiences and the related questions that arise. Conversations during the first few minutes of my third-form classes often have more to do with what my students are feeling, rather than what they are learning.
Q: How do you encourage students who are having trouble in your class? How does WFS in general support students when they struggle?
John Amos: Talking with students and making sure the lines of communication are open is always the best way to encourage a struggling student. I use consultation periods to help students who struggle academically. Students also have access to the Academic Development Center if they need more help.
Taaj Davis: I often encourage struggling students to meet with me during consultation periods. I recognize that we all learn differently and that some students need more personalized instruction or even just reassurance that they can succeed in my class. WFS is good about ensuring that students have access to learning specialists on campus and that students are afforded the accommodations that they need.
Q: What is the best thing about Woodberry academics?
John Amos: I have lots of freedom to teach what I want. I also have really interesting colleagues who love their work.
Taylor Casey: The best part of Woodberry academics is the freedom that teachers have to plan unique, memorable lessons. Whether it is a day dedicated to taste-testing and discussing Spanish hams, or a day shooting rockets to make craters in the snow, the teaching faculty overflows with ideas that challenge students in and out of the classroom.
Taaj Davis: To me, the best thing about Woodberry academics are the instructional liberties granted to teachers. Unlike many other educational settings, teachers at Woodberry are able to teach the topics that they are most passionate about. I find this plays a crucial role in establishing similar kinds of academic passions within students.