The Amish School teachers visited New Holland Elementary School on February 16, 2011. They requested to observe 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade students learn and to eat lunch in our school cafeteria. At noon, Rachel (Teacher), Mamie (Teaching Assistant), Amanda (Rachel’s sister), Katie (Rachel’s mother and former teacher), and Grace (the “English” liaison), arrived at our school. I welcomed them and spoke with them for a few minutes, giving them an overview of our school. They were grateful for the opportunity to visit as they had never been inside an English school before. The first thing that I felt compelled to explain was that it was “Comfy Sweats Day” in preparation for our awesome Jump Rope for Heart Day, which was the reason for the casual attire. The comment was an ice breaker! I knew that I was conversing with special people; they were warm, open-minded, gracious, kind, and curious to learn everything they could from our time together.
Rachel is a 19 year old teacher of thirty-one students, ages 5-14 years old. I liked her instantly and respected her courage for acting upon her curiosity.
Mamie is a 15 year old teacher’s assistant with Rachel. She was quiet and reserved, but when with the students she established an easy rapport.
Amanda is Rachel’s sister and had been a teacher for “two terms” (I assumed this meant two school years), but she had stopped teaching because she found the students’ behavior too challenging to navigate.
Katie is Rachel and Amanda’s mother, who was a former teacher in an Amish school, and was amazingly liberal and supportive of the visit (risk-taking) and of sharing ideas (collaborating).
And, Grace drives Amish teachers, has grandchildren in our school, and has a great deal of respect for educators – Amish and English alike. She made this special opportunity plausible and I am very grateful to her.
The little group circulated through three classrooms and the teachers and students welcomed them enthusiastically. First graders read their writing to them and were warmly complimented by our visitors. Third grade students allowed each visitor to join a different table and enlisted their skills as a group member during their brainstorming session for writing. Our visitors were introduced to the fifth grade class and observed intervention groups in math and then whole group science instruction. As expected, our students demonstrated the utmost respect and our teachers were extraordinary.
Katie made a fascinating comment to me while we observed fifth grade, she said, “Although our teaching methods are completely different from this, I can see clearly that the children are learning this way too.” Katie was clearly observing the LEARNING that was occurring – a true 21st century teacher – focused on learning. I then took the opportunity to tell Katie how interested and excited I was to visit Rachel’s school to learn and share with her. She nodded approvingly and promised to be there during our visit to help explain things.
The cafeteria was overwhelming to our visitors and they smiled in amazement at 200 students being served the school lunch within a six minute timeframe. Our guests took several minutes to decide between the Max Stick or Rib Eye BBQ sandwich, but soon made their decisions and brought their trays over to eat with the beckoning first graders. They spoke with the children, with the teacher and with me throughout the lunch time. They were overwhelmed with the concept of organizing a school of 600 children and the task of ensuring that each child learns.
In return, I was overwhelmed with Rachel’s poise and professionalism at a tender age of 19 years old. I admired Katie’s liberal attitude and her focus on life-long learning. I was hopeful that Amanda would gain enough confidence from the visit to perhaps go back to teaching. It is clear that Amish teachers receive very little preparation to be educators. I believe they learn while assisting in the classroom and have some workshops over the summer to prepare for the job.
I asked Rachel what resources she had. She didn’t understand the question. I rephrased the question by asking her what she would do if an 8 year old student was having difficulty learning how to read? Rachel said she would speak with the parents of the child to request their help and support, but hadn’t experienced that problem yet. She continued to explain that her school had a “Board” made up of five parents who supported the teacher when a child’s behavior became overly disruptive, but she hadn’t sought out this type of support either. I surmised that Rachel’s best resource is Katie at this time and I am certain that we can forge our relationship so that New Holland Elementary educators can also serve as a resource in the future.
Rachel explained that her students finish school in May and she would like to spend time in our school from May until June observing and learning. Of course, I welcomed her with open arms. She reciprocated with an open invitation to visit her school any time, which I will arrange and write about soon.
As I reflect on this day in my career, I can truly say that it was one of the remarkable moments. I don’t yet know exactly why this relationship is so important – but I am certain that it is. The Amish rely on children to teach their children. Parent support is crucial to the running of the school. They clearly have a focus on learning and are able to accomplish a great deal with few resources. This is all I know for sure at the moment, but I hope you will help me to find the epiphany in this endeavor by continuing to read.
February 16th was our guests’ day to observe, learn and reflect…I am looking forward to our day to learn more from our Amish colleagues and their students.