Return to the Field and Back to the Classroom

By Lottie Boumeester, MA in Anthropology and Education ’22

It’s another Sunday evening before school – a time that some teachers (and many others so gainfully employed) have often marked out for the Monday Blues. Yet I do not feel a sense of dread for the week ahead and I haven’t for many years. Since 2017, I have worked at a single-sex secondary school in London, England as an English teacher and then as Curriculum Lead for Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHEE), preceded by two years at a school in Wales.

Then in 2021, I took a sabbatical from my job, with a promise from both parties that I’d return and continue in this role that I loved. I came over to Teachers College to complete a M.A. in Anthropology and Education, as well as live in New York City for a year – since studying at Columbia University and time in that big city were both ambitions of mine. My first term was the first in-person since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and so quite the time to start too.

I began the programme with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be staying in the States, nor leveraging my learning and growing network into a new career path. In some ways, this didn’t feel like a common position – or perhaps more typical of postgraduate studies for business administration (where one’s place in the executive workforce is already confirmed). But I have always seen teaching as a career with a big C, as well as a hugely rewarding vocation that allows me to support young people as they come into their own.

I have since graduated (with a shout-out and interdepartmental love for Professor Nicole Furlonge’s courses at the Klingenstein Center and Dr. Riddhi Sandil’s class in the department of Counseling & Clinical Psychology, as well as gratitude to Professor Amina Tawasil’s writing group for Anthropology in Cafes!) and now I am back in the classroom, once more teaching teenagers and helping colleagues to do the same in thoughtful, critical ways.

Going to Teachers’ College and returning to the same field of work has been really interesting – particularly because of how I started in education. I joined the workforce via Teach First (a Teach for All branch that also waives the TC application fee). With this route, you are in the classroom teaching from the very start of the academic year and, while there is a university component, studying is often outside of school hours. It was intensive and incredibly rewarding, but also has much less time built in for quiet reflection or peer-led discussions than many other entryways. So, to get a year away from my work (by now six school years on) was invaluable.

My time in New York allowed me to read ethnographies of education, pedagogical treatises, and critical theories on my many areas of interest (everything from learning for sustainability to change management for diversity, equity, and inclusion), while in a wealth of beautiful places (tucked away in the nooks of Butler 303 or with a MCM latte amongst the plants of Dear Mama). I got to consider how schools measure success, as well as wonder about the epistemologies which put those processes in place. I was able to problematise the ways that the English education systems provide frameworks for personhood and citizenship, as well as question how I could establish a teaching praxis that moves away from the colonial matrix of power and towards a liberatory and culturally-sustaining pedagogy.

By taking Professor Nicholas Limerick’s class on Language, Cultural Politics, and Education, I can trace how language ideologies sustain social imbalance, as well as consider how raciolinguistics might show up in my classroom. From Urban Situations & Education with Dr.  Michelle Zhang, I understand how students’ wilful defiance to teacher expectations can be an opportunity to complicate institutional narratives on behaviour and appropriateness. While Dr. Gus Andrews’ class supports me in understanding how educational policy comes to be interpreted and implemented by all the actors affected – work that I also wove into my Independent Project (IP) on state school responses to the ‘Fundamental British Values’.

All said and done with this educational opportunity, I am pleased to be with my students again. I genuinely missed the hustle and bustle of the school day (versus the rush of a university deadline), the chatter of the corridor (against the silence of Gottesman third floor), and the side-eye from that one kid who just hates early mornings (what about that warm American smile!) At this moment, I have been back for one term, and I have enjoyed every Sunday evening that advances into a manic Monday. 

I am happier for having had my time at TC. Without it I don’t think I could be this reflexive a teaching practitioner, challenging myself and my assumptions as much as anyone else out there. As my phone screen has said ever since I started Teach First, ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ And I am glad to keep getting to do that – in TC and beyond.

Lottie Boumeester completed her Masters degree is Anthropology and Education in the fall of 2022. She has since returned to her hometown of London, England to continue her position as a secondary school teacher. We are grateful to Lottie for sharing her experiences as a teacher turned student turned teacher again. We are even more glad she chose to have those experiences with us here at Teachers College.


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