Ms. Cushman, a true Renaissance woman, very much intrigued us when we shadowed her around BASIS Independent Brooklyn for a day. After graduating from Brown University, she pursued a career in writing and art before coming to the realization that she loved teaching. Not surprisingly, paintings liven up the walls in her classroom, and included in this blog post are photos of her creations on display for students.
A Day in the Life
Early Morning (7:25 a.m.)
Most mornings Ms. Cushman greets students and helps younger children out of cars on Sigourney Street. She wanted to make it a point of saying 'thank you' to the parents who consistently drive as far up Sigourney as possible before dropping off their child to make sure there is enough room for all the cars.
8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Ms. Cushman has time to prepare for her upcoming 9th grade honors English class. She typically goes through lessons prepared ahead of time and takes stock of her classroom to make sure seats are in order and students have a clean, organized work area.
8:30 a.m. to 11: 30 a.m.
Mornings involve teaching 9th grade students in honors English. Class starts with a "Do Now" writing exploration to encourage students to think through questions posed.
"There's no right answer in the discussions at the start of our AP honors class," said Ms. Cushman. "You always get a surprise and learn so much about the kids. People come out of their shells. It creates a space for them to share a more emotional side of themselves that I like. It is this combination of scholarly lit paired with this open space to share."
Ms. Cushman works hard to find ways to engage students directly through small group projects or performance activities. For example, she often splits students into smaller groups to discuss questions and then report back to the class. They also do a good deal of close reading analysis with a focus on literary devices.
At a beginning of a unit, Ms. Cushman starts with lectures. For instance, Tim O'Brien's collection of short stories from soldiers on the Vietnam War required lecturing on the history of the period. In general, Ms. Cushman very much enjoys the intersection of history and literature analysis.
"Each class is completely different," said Ms. Cushman with a smile.
After Ms. Cushman's last class, she tries to use her prep block to capture the discussions from the day and plan ahead to the next day while it is fresh in her mind. She thinks ahead about the reading assignment for the day and how to bring it to life tomorrow with a unique activity.
Ms. Cushman grabs Butter Beans lunch three days a week. Every now and then she treats herself to a walk over to Van Brunt Street and dines at local favorite Baked.
Several days a week, Ms. Cushman oversees an Academic Enrichment period for 5th or 9th grade in her classroom. Students start on their homework and Ms. Cushman makes sure she is available to help with any questions. With good weather, she sometimes goes outside to the terrace for recess with 5th grade.
Next up, Ms. Cushman leads 5th grade English class. She typically has finished prep for the class the night before and uses time before the class to reflect on her plans and make certain that everything is in place for her lessons.
On teaching 5th grade: "I really like this age because they are very creative, so I try to make the 'Do Now' exercises at the start of class more open-ended yet related to what we are reading. Right now we are reading A Wrinkle in Time. Rather than just asking questions about the book, I think of creative assignments."
Recently, the kids read a passage on "nothingness" in A Wrinkle in Time and she asked them to try their best to describe "nothingness" in their own words inspired by the text. Reflecting, she shares, "I was actually blown away by the responses."
Some examples we spotted:
"It is like pasta Bolognese without the sauce...."
"In encountering anything, there is always something - you are either short or tall. It is either darkness or light. There is no nothing..."
Ms. Cushman's students are very eager to share their "Do Now" responses. The rest of class will be a small group activity or lectures on grammar or theme in the novel or character analysis. She closes with five minutes of read aloud.
3:15 p.m. Student Hours
Student hours offer a good time to spend one-on-one time with students. "It is a nice time to be able to spend one-on-one time with the kids without the structured type of day. We can talk about the work in a more relaxed setting."
Ms. Cushman has been known to occasionally sing for her students during student hours. She took singing lessons earlier in life and enjoyed performing in musical theater in high school as well as college. "Bianca" in Kiss Me Kate was her favorite role. In college, she joined a co-ed acapella group called the Higher Keys. She hopes to one day offer a Project Week course in songwriting for our older students.
Thank you, Ms. Cushman, for giving us a window into your day! It was wonderful finding out more about the creativity and infusion of English with art brewing inside your classroom.
To learn more about our amazing teaching staff and our acclaimed program, join us at an upcoming event.