Amanda Debisschop Bringing the Magic of Learning Back to High School

Like many Marlboro students, Amanda DeBisschop demonstrated a passion for learning. She graduated in 2010 with a Plan of Concentration that included translating Plato’s The Symposium, analyzing Galway Kinnell’s poetry and presenting a collection of her own poetry. It should be no surprise that two years later she is translating that passion for learning into teaching English to juniors at Leland and Gray High School, in Townshend, Vermont.

“Teaching never felt like a ‘choice’ to me, or even ‘work’” said Amanda, who was certified and received her master’s degree in Marlboro’s Teaching for Social Justice (MATS) program. “I never wanted to buy or sell anything in the commercial world. I had an amazing high school experience that is so central to who I am. I wanted to be able to offer that to other people.”

Amanda spent last year in classes at Marlboro’s graduate program, based in nearby Brattleboro, and a full-year of teaching internships, first at Greenfield High School and then at Leland and Gray. Linda Rood, the venerated 11th-grade English teacher at L&G, retired at the end of the year, and Amanda is stepping into her big shoes with her customary ease.

“I was immediately welcomed by this community and integrated quickly,” said Amanda. “The content is really exciting, books like The Great Gatsby, authors like Hemingway and Steinbeck, talking about what it means to be an American and what American literature is. The time I spent at Marlboro grappling with these same books and ideas was great preparation. Marlboro creates a unique space to struggle with essential questions like those we’ll be looking at in class.”

Amanda recalls experiencing the magic of learning many times at Marlboro. One particular moment she recalled was when, while reading Moby Dick, literature professor John Sheehy instructed the whole class to go outside in the pouring rain. He offered no explanation, but just spread the class out along the walkway at intervals along a tape measure.

“After about 30 seconds we were soaked. When John was through, he turned to us and said, ‘This is the size of a sperm whale. This is how immense it is.’ It was a revelatory moment. It’s that kind of physical and emotional experience of literature that I hope to bring to Leland and Gray.”

With so much emphasis on information literacy in today’s society, Amanda remains resolute in teaching the importance of fiction. She said, “Fiction helps us to develop a kind of emotional intelligence that other subjects don’t address so directly. It touches on the philosophical questions. It turns us outward and inward simultaneously, and asks us to question ourselves as people.”