Learning by Doing

By Martin Millspaugh, Kate Childrey teaching intern
When I step out my front door each morning, I’m welcomed by the St. Christopher’s campus with a friendly immediacy; it’s already under my feet, and has been each morning since I moved in to the apartment on the west corner of the property last August to serve as the Kate Childrey teaching intern.

The St. Chris community, especially its faculty, has welcomed me in much the same way the campus does each morning: immediately, gracefully and brightly. The consistency and warmth of the welcome — the way I can count on it each morning when I wake up — was especially meaningful in my first weeks and months here, because this role, this campus and even my short walk to work each morning were not yet familiar.

Upon arriving at the Middle School I hear a snippet of the morning sixth grade chatter about last night’s basketball games as I pass through the hallway on the way to the first period twentieth-century American history lesson taught by my mentor Hill Brown. Hill and I are often mocked for our common affinity for a base dress code of white Oxford shirt, light khakis and brown moccasins, but it’s been a perfect fit for me beyond the sartorial. Hill’s mentoring style is guided by a thorough humility that lends me confidence, and he shares his wisdom with a kind, self-effacing demeanor. After observing his class, I teach the same lesson in second period to a new group of seventh graders. Broadly I follow his path, but he’s encouraged me to experiment and tweak things here and there, so sometimes I try to present something a bit differently. Now and then one of us will opt for boots while the other proceeds in the usual mocs.

The afternoon usually provides me a chance to observe or assist with Liz Boykin’s seventh grade English class or Fran Turner’s eighth grade Spanish students next door or across the hall, or to drift elsewhere and observe another lesson before I walk over to the field house for an afternoon athletic practice. I’ve found the midday transition from teacher to coach to be a stimulating one. Some strategies seem to be effective in both settings, but it’s not always that way. The pace, especially, can be vastly different. I enjoy coaching boys I’ve taught earlier in the day, mirroring their transition from student to athlete. It’s easy to see the value of the teacher-coach model.

The walk back to my apartment is a brief one, as I’m home at the same moment I leave work. During a few recent evenings when I’ve opened my back door to let the sunlight in, I’ve enjoyed the sounds from a baseball game coming across the street from Siegel Field. As this place has become more familiar, I’ve learned to increasingly value each step, each chance to do something: to teach a class, learn about a student’s interests outside of school, observe a conversation, lead a drill or proctor a study hall. I’ve come to believe that the practice of learning by doing is central to teaching and to consider the phrase, “do what you are doing,” a guiding principle. The opportunity to learn is always immediate in both time and place, it seems. I’m glad to be right here, with this campus under my feet and this community surrounding me.

Martin Millspaugh graduated from the University of Virginia in 2017 with a double major in English and urban and environmental planning. He worked for five summers at Camp Pasquaney and was a student advisor and dormitory co-head for the The Winter Term in Lenk, Switzerland, in spring 2018. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he served as an assistant coach for JV football, eighth grade football, eighth grade basketball and Middle School lacrosse.