Zoe Norcross '04 shares how her experiences as a 2004 Carroll School alumna and 2020 graduate of the Angela Wilkins Program for Graduate Studies in Education shaped her current position as a Carroll School teacher and tutor.
Tell us a little about yourself and the impact that the Angela Wilkins Program for Graduate Studies in Education had on you.
I'm Zoe Norcross and I'm an English Language Arts teacher and Orton-Gillingham tutor at Carroll School. I graduated from the master's program in 2020. The two most meaningful parts of my experience in the program were being here at Carroll School surrounded by these incredible teachers from whom I've learned so much and working with the remarkable students while I was in the program.
Share a bit about your journey back to Carroll School.
I was working as an adaptive sports specialist and had reached the point in that role where I was working less and less with the end users. I decided it was time for a change so I joined the Peace Corps, where I ended up working in a classroom. I started thinking, "Gosh, I could do this. I could work with kids all the time. How great would that be?" When I was brainstorming what that may look like, the only thing that made it onto my piece of paper was "end goal: Carroll School."
And that's how I found the master's program. As a previous student at Carroll, I wasn't just building my academic skills but also learning how to be a student with dyslexia, how to advocate for myself, and how to succeed in the world. The impact that Carroll teachers made on me was what I wanted to give in return. So when I was thinking about "end goal: Carroll School" I wanted to be in a role that could be impactful for students with language-based learning differences. I wanted to be like those teachers that I had growing up that really changed my world and opened me up to being a learner in a way that made sense for me.
A unique part of the master's program is being immersed in the classroom as a graduate intern. How did that shape you as a teacher?
Being in the classroom every day with students, although it makes for an incredibly rigorous year, really shaped my learning experience. It let me take the skills that I learned in the graduate courses and apply them right away. I would learn something in class, have an aha moment, and then bring it into the classroom where I could see how it could work, play around with it, and practice strategies to support all types of learners. It helped me understand what I was learning at a deeper level and it allowed me to dynamically grow and build my skills as a teacher.
Another benefit to the master's program is receiving Orton-Gillingham training in addition to the graduate courses. How have you benefited from that?
As someone who is a Carroll alum and someone who has benefited from Orton- Gillingham tutoring, I was so incredibly thrilled that I was finally going to be trained as an Orton-Gillingham tutor. Those skills that I learned in my O-G class I now use every day. Not only in my O-G tutorials but I also use them in my English Language Arts classes to support students with reading and spelling. Those skills come into play in almost every single lesson that I give, both as a tutor and as a teacher, helping me to meet kids where they're at and support them in a way that makes sense to them.
Talk about the important role that Carroll School instructors and mentor teachers played in your graduate program experience.
When I was in the graduate program and surrounded by the teachers and people that helped shape who I am today, I felt right at home. Everyone was so supportive--mentor teachers, Haley Blacklow (program director), my peers--like I had a team on my side who wanted to see me succeed as a teacher.
During that year in the program, I could go up to any teacher and ask: "Can I observe your class?" "Can you help me understand this concept?" "Would it be all right if I tried such and such in my next lesson?" I had so much support from the teachers around me, not just those teaching my graduate courses but a whole community of teachers who I trusted and who supported me in becoming a teacher myself.
How did the graduate program shape you into the teacher you are today?
Being in the graduate school program prepared me to be a teacher-- to think in a way where I can look at every student as an individual and have the skills and flexibility to meet them where they're at in their learning. Having the hands-on teaching experiences in the classroom and working directly with students with language-based learning differences--one-on-one and in small groups--laid the groundwork for me to become the teacher I am today.
A mentor of mine once said, "When you've taught a child with dyslexia, you have taught that kid." Each child at Carroll is an individual. Having the opportunity to spend time with students individually, to learn about their needs, and to teach to those needs was a phenomenal way to learn about myself as a teacher and to build my skills.
What would you say to someone considering the Angela Wilkins Program for Graduate Studies in Education?
I would say dive in. It will be a challenging year, but what you get out of it is: a solid platform filled with supportive people and filled with so many opportunities to learn both in the classroom as a student and as an intern teaching students. This program was invaluable for me as a teacher. I cannot say enough good things about it.
Watch highlights of the interview here: