Teacher of the Week: Carrie East, English, Mahomet-Seymour High School

Chicago
By Chicago 5 Min Read

Nominate a teacher by emailing Anthony Zilis at [email protected].

Long before she was a high school English teacher at Mahomet-Seymour High School, where she’s taught since 2000, Carrie East was taught to read by a high-schooler in her hometown of Georgetown.

It was her sister who instilled in her a love for reading, and for the last 29 years, East, who is in her final year of teaching, has done the same for students at Mahomet-Seymour and Unity Junior High.

“Mrs. East has been a rock for the English department for many years,” Principal Chad Benedict said. “She works to make all students feel welcome and to make sure their voice is heard. Both inside and outside of the classroom, students can count on Mrs. East supporting them.”

I find my work important because … reading is a foundational skill, but it’s also a way for students to experience diverse perspectives, places and times. Also, how many of us would ever be motivated to read or appreciate the beautiful language in “Romeo and Juliet” or in Frederick Douglass’ narrative if it weren’t for the guidance of our English teachers?

I became a teacher because … I was inspired by older sister Cindy, who was a beloved third-grade teacher in Georgetown. Eleven years my senior, Cindy taught me to read when she was in high school herself, and she kept after me to be a reader. She instilled in me a love of books, and she and I continued to share book recommendations well into our adult lives. It seemed natural that I would also become a teacher like my big sister. I wanted to follow in her footsteps and make her proud.

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is … My favorite unit of the year is reading Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible.” It has it all: allegory, love, jealousy, tragedy, politics, teen drama and “witchcraft.” It’s pretty wonderful (but also frightening) how relevant his play continues to be.

I assign parts, and we read the play aloud in class. Some of my most memorable classroom moments have been “discovering” student actors, especially those who might never join Drama Club but really should!

My most fulfilling moments on the job are when … I learn something new almost every day, and much of that I learn from my students.

I keep students engaged by … meeting students where they are: on their phones. But, that’s not a bad thing! It means I’ve digitized most of my content. Also, I include my students in much of my decision-making; I can’t let them decide everything, but I frequently ask for their input and offer them choices. I think they feel heard.

And, treats. I think if you’re going to read “Animal Farm,” animal cracker cookies are in order.

Something else I’m passionate about is … helping sponsor our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Film Club and Sonder literary magazine. While these clubs are different, they all involve providing safe or creative spaces where students can truly be themselves.

My favorite teacher and subject to study in school was … Too many to mention! I had great teachers in my Georgetown school days: Gary Mills, Susie Riggle, P. Jestin Trahan, Bob McMurray, Larry Ray … all were wonderful. My favorite classes always involved literature studies. Our high school was on a quarter system, meaning the English faculty taught several topics each year. In Mr. McMurray’s nine-week course, we read numerous Poe works. I still don’t know how he prepared lessons for all of the content. Amazing.

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be … I always wanted to be a teacher, so this one is hard. But, if I had to choose some other path, I think I’d like to be a tour guide for the National Park Service, especially where authors’ homes have become historic sites. On such a tour in Philadelphia with my husband, Bill, and daughter, Katy, I stood in front of the basement wall that inspired Poe’s short story “The Black Cat.” I’d love leading tours like that!

— ANTHONY ZILIS

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