Recognizing Teacher Appreciation Week: Katie Arney

Katie Arney is an English Language Arts teacher and department chair at Glens Falls High School.

What do you do to engage your students? What makes your learning environment unique?

To err is human…and it’s important to let students know this. Engaging teenagers in 2018 is no easy feat especially when things are tough—they would rather disengage and plug-in and drown-out. But acknowledging when things are tough and admitting when you’re wrong makes students build trust and confidence that they can continue trying again and again. Students are also used to a fast-paced world, so it’s important to vary teaching techniques.

One thing that makes my classroom unique is the seating. I have my students sit in groups and encourage them to talk to one another. They ask each other questions, share ideas, and work collaboratively on assignments. This allows them to feel confident about their work before they hand it in or share with the class.

Why do you think it’s important to teach the way you do?

I try to treat everyone with kindness—even when they don’t reciprocate it! Long ago I realized that when a student lashes out at me it’s almost always due to a circumstance out of their control. I want my students to know that first and foremost I care about them as a person. I also always try to make connections to the real-world and explain why they need to learn the skills and concepts I teach.

What do you feel is the most exciting thing about teaching?

There are so many exciting and gratifying things about teaching!! First of all, no two days are the same! Obviously, seeing the moment when a student truly comprehends the lesson is extremely rewarding. But, for me, the most exciting thing about teaching right now is seeing students I had as 7th and 8th graders as young adults in the high school and when I see former students achieving great success in college and beyond. I’ve had students contact me from college to let me know that something we did in class or something I said really made an impact. Those quick messages mean so much!

Describe your best lesson ever.

A few years ago I incorporated an in-depth Edgar Allan Poe unit to the 8th grade honors program. The stories are complex and many are taught at the high school level so I was nervous that my 8th graders were going to struggle to understand. As we were reading The Cask of Amontillado we starting discussing some of the symbolism and to my surprise a student looked at me with big eyes and exclaimed, “Mrs. Arney, you just blew my mind!” That was a great day to see that not only did they understand, but also appreciated the literature!!

My favorite unit to teach this year was our Senior Research Project. It was rewarding to see the progress from a question to a research paper to a group presentation. They had to apply many skills from writing to technology to collaboration and many others skills in-between! The project was to design a 21st Century Classroom. My goal was to make this as real-life and relevant as possible in preparation for college and career readiness. One of the days we scheduled a video-conference call with an educational design company. On the call were 3 consultants, all working from home. It was a truly unique experience for my seniors to see what work is like in the 21st century. My students acted more like mature professionals than high school students asking insightful questions, taking notes, and make positive contributions to the dialogue.

Tell us a little more about yourself.

I grew up just outside of Albany and went to Voorheesville High School. I then attended Binghamton University and received my Bachelor of Arts in English. I originally started graduate school for Speech Language Pathology, but early on in the program I was required to do some visitation hours in a classroom and I had my aha! moment! That same day I switched to the Adolescence Education program and received my Masters of Science from the College of Saint Rose. I was serendipitously assigned to do my student teaching at GFMS and I had my second aha! moment. I fell in love with the area, bought a house here, and hoped to one day come back and teach in this school! Out of my 13 years of teaching, 11 of them have been here in Glens Falls, 10 in the middle school and now one in the high school.