Christine McAleer, who has been teaching English at St. Martin’s Episcopal School for five years, traveled to Washington, D.C., the past two summers for Smithsonian American Art Museum programs, and next year will take her seventh-grade students to the museum.

Christine McAleer.

“Only about half of the teachers who applied were selected, so I was honored,” McAleer said of the two summer programs.

Through what she learned at the programs, McAleer has integrated art into her English classes and uses programs developed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she said.

She also serves as the co-sponsor of the school’s literary and arts magazine, Mosaic.

Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
A: I wanted to be a teacher when I was a little girl, but at college, I decided to learn as much as possible about literature and writing. Then, when my children were young, I worked part-time at the school they attended, and the desire to teach returned. I enrolled at Mercer University and never looked back.

Q: What keeps you going year after year?
A: No matter what happens outside of the classroom, family problems or the inevitable burnout we all feel at work occasionally, when the bell rings, and I close that classroom door … and turn towards those kids and think about the exciting and important and meaningful work we are about to do together, energy and happiness replace the stress, worry and fatigue. I also love to learn new ways to teach and new topics to cover.

Q: What are you most proud of in your career?
A: I’m proud to teach at St. Martin’s. I’m proud of integrating art and inquiry into my curriculum, and I’m really proud that our seventh-grade students will visit Washington, D.C., this May and tour the Smithsonian American Art Museum!

Q: What did you learn from the Smithsonian programs?
A: We worked with the museum’s fabulous education department and spent time daily in the galleries, practicing the routines with the artwork.

I designed a very successful lesson to help the students learn and apply literary terms like plot, metaphor, setting, narrative, personification, etc., to the painting “Achelous and Hercules” by Thomas Hart Benton. The students are always really engaged, and the discussion is amazingly deep and sophisticated.

McAleer teaches some of her students. (Special)

Both of the institutes have helped me bring a new dimension to my teaching. The students LOVE looking at, talking about and analyzing artworks.

Q: Do you use any special programs?
A: My principal, Tony Shaffer, introduced me to the “Making Thinking Visible” routines created by educators at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s summer institutes, we practiced these routines and learned some additional visual thinking strategies and global thinking strategies. Basically, these routines encourage a culture of critical, creative, empathetic, and collaborative thinking in the classroom through easily implemented questioning routines that range from asking the students, “What makes you say that?” to requiring them to play “Tug-of-War” to encourage them to explore arguments for both sides of a dilemma.

I also use lots of artwork in my lessons. My students learn to “read” art and to connect it to literature, history, and their own lives.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher?
A: The lure of social media and its simplification of language and thought. Making reading and writing and literature relevant to my students in an increasingly inarticulate world, and teaching empathy and acceptance in our polarized society.

Q: What is your favorite part of teaching at St. Martin’s?
A: Working with my middle school colleagues. We are a close community of dedicated, innovative, excellent teachers. The administration fosters this innovation and enthusiasm through our fabulous and generous professional development program. Of course, I can’t forget our wonderful students and their supportive families!