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Our Inspired Teachers: Bob Sauer

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Bob Sauer, US science

Bachelor's in physics, Whitman College. At CGS since 2001.

I didn’t set out to be a teacher. I couldn’t see my shy and retiring self standing up in front of a room full of students, and the thought of speaking for a full class period filled me with anxiety and dread. But after starting out in an engineering job in San Diego, my interest waned, and I missed the opportunity to work with young people, which I had done for years as swimming instructor, lifeguard, and summer camp counselor. I went back to school to get my teaching certificate and moved back to the Northwest, which I had quite missed while living in Southern California. I started teaching at Portland’s Cleveland High School and eventually became the diving coach for the entire Portland league. After yearlong teaching exchanges to Cyprus and to Poland and 17 years at Cleveland, I moved to Catlin Gabel.
 

At Catlin Gabel I love the enthusiasm and interest of the students. I am continually amazed and impressed at their commitment and abilities—they’re studying at levels far above where I was working in high school, and pick up even the complex ideas and applications of calculus in advanced physics quickly. That inspires me to carry on even with four different classes to prepare each semester, and to stay actively involved in the myriad other fascinating things that occur at Catlin Gabel—international trips (to Turkey and Peru), the ski bus to Mt Hood, class trips, far-flung Winterim adventures, and as many outdoor program trips as I can talk my way on to. Those initial concerns that kept me from teaching from the outset? I am energized being in front of a classroom of involved students, liberally dispensing puns and other physics humor along with the scientific concepts to a receptive (albeit groaning) audience. And class periods are not long enough!   

Our Inspired Teachers: Nichole Tassoni

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Nichole Tassoni, US English

Bachelor's in English, Wesleyan University. Master's in English education, Columbia University Teachers College. At CGS since 2007.

Once upon a time I was a math whiz. Throughout elementary school, I sat sequestered in the corner of the classroom, working on killer math problems with my math pal Kevin. By 8th grade our advanced math group had grown to eight, so we took a bus to Wilson High School every day for geometry. And on every standardized test I took from 1st grade through 12th, I scored higher on math than on reading comprehension.
 
But even though everyone had me pegged for an engineer, by 10th grade I was convinced I wanted to teach high school English, thanks to Mr. Basaraba, my sophomore English teacher. Although math had always come more easily to me, I loved English class. I loved to read, I loved to write, and most of all, I loved to talk about books. So I majored in English, took a few side turns in my early twenties, and eventually made it to where I am now: working at the best job in the world.
 
There are few things I like more in the world than talking about books. As I discovered when I started teaching, however, one of them is teenagers. It’s true: teenagers are among my favorite people to hang out with. Granted, I have a pretty teenagy sense of humor, so I fit right in. Still, there’s something about the adolescent world that fascinates me. No, I don’t want to head back to high school myself; I’m quite happy being an adult, thank you very much. But I suppose one of the main reasons I’m happy as an adult is that I have the best job in the world, one that keeps me from ever getting bored. Talking about books every day, and with teenagers? What could be better?   

Our Inspired Teachers: Ron Sobel

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Ron Sobel, US Spanish

Bachelor's in political science, San Jose State University. Master's in Spanish, Middlebury College. At CGS since 1977.

 

There was something about schools that caught my eye. It may have been the Merry-Go-Round Pre-School that my parents owned, where I was the oldest child enrolled and considered myself a staff member at 6. Or perhaps it was Thomas Edison Elementary School, located virtually in my backyard, where I would spend 12 months a year in the buildings or on the playground. It could have been my brother’s junior and senior high, places I dreamed about attending one day in order to bustle through the long halls and go to big football games on Friday night. I suspect my keen early interest in schools involved being around many people doing many things in an atmosphere that looked and felt like a beehive. Some years later I figured out that it was the buzzing of everyone involved intensely engaged in work and play that drew me to schools as a career. It did surprise my parents, though, when I announced in 8th grade that I wanted to be a Spanish teacher. And now I teach the language that I had grown up speaking and studying in a school that actually has a Beehive!
 
In my early years at Catlin Gabel, I observed my experienced colleagues carefully, trying to develop the qualities that held them in such high esteem with their students and the community. Many were reminiscent of the fine teachers I had known growing up. I think about those people frequently, and hope that young teachers today have the abundance of positive role models as we did in those days. From them I learned that my teaching subject was simply the vehicle to get to know kids and to help guide them in meaningful and ethically correct directions. What we teach is not nearly as important as the relationships we form.  

 

Our Inspired Teachers: Dave Whitson

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Dave Whitson, US history

Bachelor's in history and comparative literature, master's in curriculum and instruction, University of Washington. At CGS since 2011.

 

My senior year of high school, we were required to teach a session of our English class. I really enjoyed it. I became a teacher. People like windy paths with trees and hills; that’s a flat, paved road.
 
Of course, the real ascent began soon after. The first classes I taught at the University of Washington were disasters. I hadn’t experienced much academic failure in my life, but now I failed spectacularly. Ten minutes into my first hour-long class, I was out of material and had lost the students; paper airplanes whizzed through the air when I turned my back. I couldn’t understand how the formula that had worked so masterfully in high school was DOA in university.
 
Fortunately, I got better. My fifth class was not a crippling embarrassment. My eighth class aspired towards mediocrity—an event worthy of celebration at the time.
 
I had thought it would be easy. I had thought I would walk into the classroom and immediately fill the space with my brilliance and wit. Instead, it was the most difficult thing I had ever taken on. In the midst of those setbacks, I remember a student emailing for help with a paper, at 9 p.m. Over the next few hours, we workshopped the paper, taking some good ideas and fashioning them into an argument. At 12:15 a.m., I received a very excited email; the student had been worried about the essay, but now was really proud of it.
 
I confess that, when I decided to become a teacher, I did so thinking about the life devoted to learning. The thrill of the classroom environment. The summers off. Only after I first helped a student create something she was proud of, though, did I actually experience success as a teacher.
 
My next class went much better.  

 

Our Inspired Teachers: Carol Ponganis

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Carol Ponganis, 6th grade math

Bachelor's in biology, University of California, Santa Cruz. Master's in education, Portland State University. At CGS since 1988.

The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was in full swing when I was a middle schooler, and it inspired me to want to become a marine biologist. As a senior in high school I did an internship with the Sacramento Science Center, which offered a marine biology outdoor school program on the Mendocino coast for 6th graders. I set up a marine biology research project at the coast, which I monitored while the staff taught the outdoor school. I shadowed the director one day as he introduced the students to various aspects of coastal ecology. He was an amazing model of how to present information in an engaging, interactive style. The Science Center needed another teacher to fill in, and they asked me if I could do this on the side while my research project was running. I got hooked on teaching and ditched my research project. I loved marine biology. But I discovered that when you are able to share your passion with someone else, it makes it twice as good. I knew then that I wanted to become a science teacher. And I know that my teaching style today was directly influenced by the methods I observed from the director of the outdoor program.
 
A veteran teacher once told me that the ideal job was one in which you could keep learning and trying new things. He said: “Do you want to teach for 30 years, or do you want to teach one year, 30 times?” Taking that advice, I have tried to switch my position every four to seven years. I have taught from 6th grade to 12th grade, from astronomy to oceanography to physical science to forensics, and now I am teaching math! The opportunity to be a lifelong learner has been one of the greatest benefits of being a teacher at Catlin Gabel.  

 

Our Inspired Teachers: Rachel Brown

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Rachel Brown, 1st grade

Bachelor's in Spanish literature, Washington University. Master's in childhood general & special education, Bank Street College of Education. At CGS since 2011.

 

Teaching has had a magnetic pull for me since before I can remember. I was drawn to the idea that, as a teacher, my one small life could garner the power to positively impact the lives of many. One summer when I was in college I found my way to a camp, specifically designed for meeting the needs of children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. That summer I learned to appreciate the inner lives of children and the complicated ways in which they come to understand themselves and their relationship to the world around them. I discovered my own passion for valuing the uniqueness of every child with whom I worked. I loved that I could help them to feel that they were okay, just being themselves, while also empowering them with the belief that they had a capacity to grow and change.
 
Today these experiences remain foundational to my teaching. Working with children, for me, is an entirely hopeful act. It means saying “yes,” each and every day, to the surprising and unique gifts that children offer as they share their experiences and find confidence in being themselves. I am both humbled and invigorated by my interactions with students. Whether I am cheerleading for a student who is on the brink of making a profound mathematical connection or I am encouraging a quiet student to speak in front of her peers, I strive to value students’ individuality and help them feel safe taking risks. As I teacher I am challenged to be my best self, and I laugh more with children then I ever thought possible. At the end of the day I think there is nothing better. 

 

Our Inspired Teachers: Veronica Ledoux

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

 Veronica Ledoux, US science

Bachelor’s in biochemistry, Mercyhurst College. Doctorate in neurobiology, Northwestern University. At CGS since 2008. 

When I initially began studying science, I imagined a finish line of sorts, a distant future in which I’d Understand Everything. Naïve, right? Now, I know better. As the years passed and my education continued, I learned a great deal, but each insight uncovered new parts of the scientific puzzle. The more I understood, the more I wondered. This complex spiral can go on forever. I now realize that one of the most exciting parts of studying science is the limitlessness of it.
 
In my previous life as a science researcher, I used complicated equipment to ask very minute questions in tremendous depth. While I was fascinated by my work, I had only a relatively small community of fellow scientists with whom I could share my discoveries. The taxpayers funding my work didn’t know what I was doing with their money, as my findings were published in expensive scientific journals with limited circulation and dense, jargon-filled text. There was no easy way for me to share my scientific excitement with the public at large.
 
At times I miss the research lab, but now, as a teacher, I constantly have opportunities to share my curiosity and love of learning with others. Many teachers are the sort of people who would be happy to be eternal students, and our profession lets us get away with this, to a degree. At Catlin Gabel, we have the freedom to innovate, update curriculum, create new courses, and follow the interests of students. This is both exciting and daunting. My colleagues set a high bar for constantly honing their craft, paying attention to individual students, and adapting their approach to better suit the needs of those students. I am privileged to be part of this place, as my own scientific understanding is constantly being challenged, which keeps my enthusiasm high. 

 

Flaming Chickens robotics team on KGW-TV

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KGW-TV news story, September 2012

Members of our Upper School robotics team, 1540 the Flaming Chickens, spent all weekend at OMSI's Mini Maker Faire September 15-16 talking to people about FIRST Robotics and Catlin Gabel. They also got up for a early 4:30 a.m. video shoot at OMSI to promote the faire.  Check it out.

Catlin Gabel receives $200,000 grant from M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

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Funds bolster instructional technology in the planned Creative Arts Center

Catlin Gabel School has received a grant of $200,000 from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The grant will support instructional technology in the school’s planned Creative Arts Center.

Groundbreaking for the new building will be held October 4. Students in grades 6–12 will experience an innovative use of space for interdisciplinary work in visual and media arts, theater, and music when the Creative Arts Center opens in the fall of 2013. Funds from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust grant will be used for computers and recording equipment for the music laboratory, theater sound systems, and state-of-the-art LED stage lighting that will greatly reduce the building’s energy consumption. Additionally, the grant will support servers, networking, classroom projectors, and advanced theater projection.

The $6.9 million Creative Arts Center was designed by renowned architect Brad Cloepfil, of Allied Works Architecture. Funds for the building’s construction have come primarily from donors to the project, as well as grants. Cloepfil has designed notable museum and creative spaces worldwide, from the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis to the adaptive reuse of Manhattan’s Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle. “Catlin Gabel’s project for the new arts building means a tremendous amount to me,” said Cloepfil. “To build on that beautiful campus, with the legacy of great architecture by John Storrs and Thomas Hacker, is a true gift. We have worked with faculty and students to create a building that will be a beautiful catalyst for creativity, not only in the visual and performing arts, but for the entire curriculum of the school. It truly is a laboratory, one that will encourage the students to develop new ideas and forms of expression.”

CREATIVITY IS CENTRAL TO CATLIN GABEL’S PHILOSOPHY
“The arts are a core of Catlin Gabel’s philosophy and are key to a well-rounded education. In no other discipline do critical thinking, problem-solving, predicting outcomes, analyzing, re-assessing, and creativity come together as they do in the arts. The intellectual challenges posed by visual art, music, and theater facilitate learning in all other disciplines. These vital pursuits help make our children more thoughtful, interesting, and well-rounded—and create a life of more profundity and beauty for all of us.” –Lark Palma, head of school

THE M.J. MURDOCK CHARITABLE TRUST
The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, based in Vancouver, Washington, was created by the will of Melvin J. (Jack) Murdock, a co-founder of Tektronix, Inc., and established in 1975. The trust aims to enrich the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest by providing grants and enrichment programs to organizations seeking to strengthen the region’s educational, spiritual, and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways.