Teaching Human Nature to Seven Year Olds
Date published: April 17, 2017
Brittany Keehan, a third grade teacher who has a strong background in both liberal
and classical education, discovered University of Dallas when the Classical Education Graduate Program at the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts arose — and has been glad to find
an enthusiastic community of teachers with whom to share in the pursuit of this degree.
Tell me a little about yourself. When did you first get an inkling that you wanted
BK: I went to St. John’s College in Annapolis, where we read the great books. I had
this experience when we were learning about Apollonius in sophomore mathematics. I
was presenting the parabola proposition and had this moment where - even being a very
shy person - I was really drawn in by trying to be clear, to make sure that everyone
was following me. That was the first inkling I had that I might want to be a teacher.
What has surprised you about teaching so far?
BK: The first day was terrifying. Teaching seven year olds requires so many small
practical things to pay attention to, such as “how are you going to get them to sit
down?” Being an elementary teacher is different from what I did at St. John’s. I’m not reading
philosophy, but in a way I’m doing philosophy. With my every practical decision, with my every instruction, with the
tone of my voice, I am making statements about human nature. That one moment the first
day of teaching brought the gravity of the task down on me. I’m making statements
to these tiny humans about what it is to be human.
What challenges have you faced in teaching?
BK: I was sort of uncomfortable with the idea of being perceived as this all knowing
authority with no mind to match mine. I was wrong. I think that seven year olds can match you in unexpected moments. Being a classroom teacher made me attempt to find
a balance between being a professor of knowledge and a student of the human experience.
Just as you’re not really ever done teaching, you’re not really ever done learning.
What’s it like to now be a student instead of a teacher?
BK: As a teacher, watching a teacher, it’s really interesting to have excellent teaching
modelled for you. For example, Dr. Hanssen began her first class with a poetry recitation. I really appreciated that kind of
artful presentation of the whole. It’s little experiences like that that I’ve had
so far that have illuminated what good teaching is for me, and it’s nice to experience
that from the student perspective.
How has the program been so far?
BK: Dr. Hanssen has modeled for me what an excellent teacher is. I suppose my project
now is to figure out how that translates into a third grade classroom, because I see
in her the things that I want to be as a teacher: presenting the beautiful whole first,
a kind of thorough mastery of the content, with a humorous yet pious delivery.
How do you think that this program will help you bring the big questions a classical
education prompts to an elementary classroom?
BK: My biggest struggle as a teacher has been articulating what it is that I see that
is valuable in the Socratic Method, and what the Socratic Method is to my colleagues.
I think that this program is going to give me the phrases, the readings, the questions
to open conversations with my colleagues so that our curriculum is strengthened and
our methodology is strengthened. I think we’ll open the conversation.