By Jennifer Abella
For teachers, summer is a time they can continue their own education.
The Jane Austen Summer Program aims to make it easy for teachers to attend the four-day symposium: K-12 educators can register for $250 or they can apply for scholarships. For two scholarship winners, the program has been worth it.
Valerie Person, who teaches English II (with an emphasis on world literatures) and AP Literature and Composition at Currituck County High School in Barco, N.C., says she wouldn’t have called herself a “Janeite” before she attended the program in 2013, although she has always liked Austen’s works. “But being surrounded by such ardent fans and scholars was contagious,” she says.
Then it came time to think about attending the 2014 program. “Finances are always a consideration for teachers,” says Person, who has been teaching for about 20 years and won a scholarship to the program last year. “The scholarship was a wonderful blessing, scaffolding my attendance,” she says.
Another 2014 scholarship winner, Christina Geradts, who teaches ninth- and 11th-grade literature (ancient literature and modern European lit, respectively) at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, N.C., has been a lifelong Austen fan. When she heard there would be an Austen summer program in nearby Chapel Hill, she knew it would be “an incredible opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”
Geradts, who has been teaching for three years, says the program gave her a new perspective on Austen’s life — “ ‘Mourning in the Time of Austen’? Didn’t know a thing about it before the conference” — that she has been able to bring back to her classroom. “Often these are the things that students find most fascinating, anyways, and what tends to stick with them.”
Person says she typically attends professional development programs during her summer breaks, but she appreciates the Jane Austen Summer Program’s deep focus on the author, including the small-group discussions. “That is an English teacher’s fantasy,” she says, “to be seated at a table with fans who adore the text and enjoy closely reading and discussing nuances.”
Geradts says she took several of the ideas from the small-group discussions and used them as topics to talk about in her classes.
Person says she brought “elevenses” — our tradition of midmorning refreshments — back to her classroom, helping her students plan one. She also had her students learn a dance. “I love the new lens of looking at the characters through the way they relate as symbolized through their dancing,” she says.
Geradt’s advice for teachers is to keep an open mind about what you’ll learn: “ I was pleasantly surprised about how much about Austen and her society I learned at this conference, and I really think this helped me respond to a lot of the questions my students tend to have about British society in the early 1800s.”
If you’re thinking of applying for a scholarship, click here for information. If you attend, “you may just walk away with the title of ‘Janeite,’ Person says.
Jennifer Abella is a TV/movie/pop culture/knitting/sewing/Jane Austen geek. Oh, and a total Anglophile. Follow @nextjen on Twitter. And remember to like Jane Austen Summer Program on Facebook and follow @JASPhotline on Twitter.