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Unleashing students' potential through internship

Jack Williams

Peer-to-peer leadership


April 8, 2021

Editor’s Note: Visual Arts Senior Instructor Jack Williams explains the Teaching and Learning Internship, a new concept that allows older students to share their knowledge and talents with underclassmen. 

Some years past, I happened upon a quotation from Culver Academies’ former Head of Schools John Buxton: “When students work together to solve a problem or complete a project, something magical happens. They challenge, motivate, and validate each other. They teach each other. Students find themselves, and their voice, in the process.”

With that quote in mind, I began to imagine ways that my students could indeed challenge, motivate, validate, and ultimately teach each other, finding their unique voice in the process. Why not challenge a student or two, with the appropriate training and temperament, to join me in the classroom as a teaching assistant? Why not create an experience that propels a qualified student into a leadership role that will engage their passion for a particular discipline and demand an entirely new level of real-world professionalism and commitment? 

The obstacles were formidable, but an excellent candidate emerged for this challenging role. Frank Liu ’19 became Culver’s first Teaching and Learning Intern, working with me to develop and present lessons for his younger peers in my Drawing I course. Frank’s reflections assert the value of this experience not only as a student of art but also as a future leader in a competitive world:

“Both meaningful and enjoyable for me, the role of Teaching and Learning Intern helped me achieve personal growth in ways that I would like to share. During each class, I worked with students by offering suggestions on their progress and performance and by providing demonstrations where appropriate.”

“This experience showed me that students come with different skill sets and levels of dedication and that I must tailor my approach to their individual needs. For students who are more advanced, I offered genuine compliments but also pushed them a bit further – for example, by encouraging them to capture the delicate structure of the lip or a complex arrangement of drapery. For students who were just starting, however, my aim was first to make them more confident and to keep them engaged.

“Teaching is truly a form of art, as there is so much to consider – what if a student refuses to listen? Or what if he or she fails to understand repetitively? Am I being too harsh or am I not challenging them? These considerations have helped me to become a better leader and, I believe, a more attentive student.”

“Overall, I think the Teaching and Learning Intern project is a great opportunity that has developed my professional capability and leadership. I would like it to continue and extend to other departments on campus.”


Frank Liu '19 works with a student in Drawing Class


The students in my Drawing class – or rather in my and Frank’s Drawing class – shared their enthusiasm for this pilot program, expressing unanimous support for the experience of learning from one of their own. Here are some student comments on the refreshing opportunity to engage in this teaching and learning process with someone close to their own age.

Isabella Cayarga'21 (Santa Catarina Pinula, Guatemala): “I think this program is a good idea because you are able to have an opinion from someone else besides your teacher. It is a different experience that students have interacting with friends and finding things that will help them both. I hope this program stays because Frank has helped me a lot and I have learned about him too.”

Virginia Norris '20: “I really enjoyed having a Teaching and Learning Intern. I think that I learned a lot. I have called Frank over and been given a different point of view on my artwork. I like getting as much feedback as I can and seeing the different stages of artwork from other artists. I would like this program to continue since I have benefitted greatly.”

Teaching Ethics

And continue it has. With Frank Liu’s success as my Teaching and Learning Intern in mind, Senior Leadership Instructor Don Fox and I discussed ways to adapt this initiative to his Ethics course.  After modifying the selection process somewhat to account for the unique qualities of the Leadership Department, Don offered this new teaching opportunity to one of his students, Tereza Dudzik '21 (Anchorage, Alaska), who like Liu, fully outperformed our expectations as a Teaching and Learning Intern.  Don Fox’s students in his Ethics course shared their approval, commenting on the appeal of learning from one of their peers in the following reflections:

Reese Roemer '22 (Chicago): “I believe this experience brought a lot of good to not only the students in the class but also the Teaching and Learning Intern. It was nice to be taught in a different way. She presented the material in a different way and brought new ideas to the table. She had to learn patience, and I believe that because she was a student it made some of the students more respectful. She had authority over us but it was a different kind of authority. I really appreciated it.”

Cecille Figueroa '22 (Chicago): “Tereza is probably the most enthusiastic person I have ever met and brings that to the classroom every day. She is always willing to help and give advice to everyone in the class. Whenever we go into a class she is always the first one to ask how we are. Her teaching and helpfulness in the classroom are amazing. She offered her help to everyone in the class when we had an assessment and did not mind giving up her time. When we have discussions, she is always giving constructive feedback and always makes it very positive. She is an amazing Teaching and Learning Intern, and I enjoy seeing her in class!”

Mary Kelley '22 (Culver): “I liked having someone I could relate to in the class. It made me feel more comfortable and relaxed. I think it helped being able to share more.”


Tereza Dudzik '21 leads an Ethics class in December


Teaching and Leadership

Recently, I was privileged to speak with Maj. Stephen Taylor, an active-duty officer and former professor of American politics at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I asked Taylor his thoughts about teaching as a form of leadership, and his response struck me as more than worthy of sharing. 

“Teaching is leading. To lead is to inspire, to model good behavior, and to sacrifice your own desires for the benefit of others. As a leader, you might need to motivate tired soldiers to reach the objective in blinding snow and stifling heat; as a teacher, you must also account for motivation when challenging your students to dive into Plato’s Republic early on a Friday morning when all they care about are weekend plans.”

“Modeling professionalism as a teacher demands the same discipline whether you are inspecting the barracks or debating a controversial opinion in the classroom. Whether soldiering, teaching, or leading in some other way, a professional approach to your sacred responsibility demands personal sacrifices, rendering nine-to-five and weekends meaningless conventions. You will work when your soldiers, your students, or the people entrusted to your leadership need you because your job is to serve their interests, not yours.”

“Furthermore, intellectual curiosity is a requirement for this teaching opportunity because the real work often takes place behind the scenes, long before you step in front of a classroom. You will need to study, rehearse, and anticipate your students’ questions. To be sure, teaching is difficult and not for everyone, but it is also immensely rewarding. You will gain confidence. You will become a better public speaker, mentor, and coach.”

“At the end of the day, you might find the most satisfaction not from your own accomplishments, but rather from helping your students achieve their goals. I believe the Teaching and Learning Intern project at Culver Academies will provide life-long benefits to those willing to accept the challenge. Be courageous and test yourself!”

The Mind-Spirit-Body connection

Consistent with Taylor’s professional point of view, the leadership role of the Teaching and Learning Intern offers qualified students a more profound level of serving Culver’s community of young artists and scholars. They willingly share the burden of transmitting skill and knowledge from one generation to the next, sacrificing their resources of time and energy to help others. 

Like many forms of leadership and service, however, this teaching burden paradoxically sustains the mind, spirit, and body.  As they work with their less experienced classmates, Teaching and Learning Interns will develop greater empathy and patience, and they will expand their ability to effectively communicate complex ideas and procedures to a diverse student body. 

Furthermore, with each tutorial, Teaching and Learning Interns will note the extent to which the challenge of successful teaching reveals their own strengths and weaknesses, and they will have opportunities to develop and explore new interests and abilities that emerge through their meaningful contributions to their department. 

Because of their potential impact on student success, Teaching and Learning Interns may be invited to share their experiences and insights at department meetings.  By offering their own unique perspectives, they may assume this additional leadership role through the process of shaping department objectives. 

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