It’s hard to know where to start when we sit down with College Counselor and English Subject Expert Teacher Ms. Irving because she has experience with every division at BASIS Independent McLean! She is one of two college counselors here, she teaches English to grade 6 and 8 students, and she has a son attending the school. She loves working with students of many ages and stages.
We sat down with Ms. Irving to learn about her passions for Shakespeare, teaching, and helping high school students find their best fit college. Read her full bio here.
What attracted you to BASIS Independent McLean?
I was attracted to BASIS Independent McLean because it’s a new school and it’s backed by the strength of the nationwide BASIS Curriculum. More than walking into a pre-structured college counseling program, I like creating a program based on who I’m working with, so it’s student-specific. What these students in McLean need is how I’m going to structure the program. What better way to create a successful program then to get to know the students in the beginning, assess their needs, and then work from there. That being said, there’s also a lot of support from the network.
Why take on the dual role of English teacher and College Counselor?
I love both and they complement each other. My first career was teaching English, and from that grew my love of college counseling. In the English classroom, I really learn about a student through their interaction with literature, their writing, and their reaction to scenarios. In previous jobs, I was learning so much about the students in the classroom that I ended up writing college recommendations for many students. I realized I could do what I loved, which is teaching, helping, and educating, and create the tangible results of college counseling pieces.
I went back to school for my counseling degree to assist with that aspect because the job is more than “here are these colleges, apply to them.” There’s a lot of “let’s find out who you are” to determine what works best for the student. It’s a lot of human interaction and understanding different types of people.
I’m excited to be teaching middle school students how to write and how to develop the process. It’s new to them, so they are still eager to synthesize their ideas. And by the time they’re in high school, I’ll have some seriously good recommendations for them because I will have known them for a while. There’s no better way to gain the trust of the students than to be in the classroom with them.
What is the college counseling process at BASIS Independent McLean?
In freshman and sophomore years, Dr. Hight, the other college counselor, and I meet with the students as a class to begin the conversation about college. Junior year, I have the students in advisory, and senior year, there is a college class that all students take. Prior to senior year, there is a lot of communication, workshops, coffees, presentations, and visitors surrounding the college process. Everything prior to senior year is guidance, such as taking the SAT, learning how to successfully visit a college, collecting tips and tricks for the admissions process, using Naviance, etc.
In senior year, there is a class integrated into their day that is 100% devoted to the college application. Not only have they received guidance in grades 9–11, but students will receive the implementation directly through that course. In the course, applications will be created and perfected, essays will be written and rewritten, requirements will be checked, deadlines will be met, and questions will be answered. All those details that are essential in the fall and winter of the senior year will be dealt with immediately on a daily basis.
What is your college counseling philosophy?
As a college counselor, I am here to guide each student successfully through high school and onto the right college for them. I help students match their achievements and passions to the right place that will continue to nurture and challenge them by providing them with everything they will need to make an informed decision on where to apply and ultimately which college to attend.
How are you getting to know high school students who you don’t have in class?
I meet with the juniors in advisory, so I’m getting to know each student personally for 10 minutes every day. I’m communicating the college application process to them, but also learning who they are. I’m also not alone in the college counseling role, Dr. Hight, who is a founding faculty member, is also integral to college counseling and he teaches in the high school.
What’s your favorite thing to teach in English class?
Shakespeare and poetry. Not to be the generic English teacher, but teaching Shakespeare gives me the chance to have students slow down, read something, “get it,” and realize it is accessible. That is exciting.
There’s also the fun part where students act out scenes, share their insights about loyalty, and reflect upon larger concepts in the novel or play. I can help them realize that there is more to words than just the words themselves. I like those moments when they finally understand and are excited. I like when students start skeptical and then really get into it. You’re allowed to be skeptical, but I’m going to show you that you’re going to learn more about yourself.
Grades 6–8 students take Pre-Comprehensive and Comprehensive Exams. Why are these exams important?
In grades 6–8 English, we want the focus to be on the fundamentals of language. There is a lot of grammar in the grade 6 curriculum, and there’s less in grade 8. So by the time they reach grade 9, students have those building block skills and don’t have to study grammar or sentence diagrams and can instead focus on the analysis. Pre-Comps make sure students are grasping the concepts they need to know. We want every student to progress with the same skillset, which is necessary for their success in the next grade, and eventually AP exams.
You’re a parent here too. Why did you choose to send your son to BASIS Independent McLean?
I brought my son to an Open House and his eyes lit up. I feel comfortable having him taught here and that is essential. He loves it here, and I’m constantly amazed by what he knows and is learning.