What I Learned from Calling My Teachers by their First Names

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Two words: Focus Fridays. Every Friday in middle school instead of having classes, we would have a day long activity. Unreal, right? From spending the day calculating the volume of the school’s pool to venturing on hikes that led us around the gorgeous 75-acre campus, I couldn’t believe that this was my life now.

I giggled hysterically when my parents told me that I would call my teachers by their first name at my new school, The Athenian School. They had to be kidding, I thought to myself. Once I felt more composed, I envisioned myself casually saying hi to my science teacher Cindy or my English teacher Nancy. And then I completely lost it again.

Fast forward three years, I waved to my old teacher in passing while I was late to my first period high school English class. “Hi Alex,” I called out across the quad. “I’m excited to hear your proposal in today’s morning meeting.” He smiled and waved in return and we both went on our way.

As I headed to my class, I couldn’t help but laugh. Morning meetings involving the entire high school coming together to talk about current events and house presentations from outside speakers became my norm. So did calling my teachers by their first names. For class, I could choose between seminars ranging from feminist gender exploration to delving into the history of the Vietnam War. I could even take a seminar called Democracy in Action, a class based on a year long research project of improving campus-wide issues. These classes prepared me for my college seminars more than I could have ever imagined. I could even pass up seminars and classes in college because I’d already taken similar topics in high school.

We had town meetings and symposiums and nature hikes at the beginning of every school year. Plus, a 26-day backpacking trip doubled as a strict graduation requirement. Many times, I wanted a more “normal” and straightforward education, much like my friends in public school. Did everything we did at my school really need to be that environmentally friendly? The answer was yes. Sometimes it felt difficult to see the point of it.

I never truly appreciated this earthy crunchy, incredibly unique education until I got to college. I met people from all walks of life and educational backgrounds. People who would’ve killed to go to a middle and high school like mine constantly asked how I was not more appreciative.

I now realize that a huge part of my outlook on life, study skills, empathy for others and appreciation for nature comes from calling my teachers by their first names. It comes from Focus Friday’s and nature hikes that I hated in the moment. It comes from town meetings and symposiums. They seemed ridiculous at the time, yet always made me think in ways that I normally wouldn’t. These skills came from seven years of experiential learning at its finest—a hands on learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. My transition to college was so much easier than expected because of the tools I gained in high school. And I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

The education I had and privilege that exposed me to such a unique and nurturing community environment has honestly changed me for the better. I arrived to college mature, centered and ready to tackle anything that came my way.

Emma is a Sophomore at American University in Washington DC studying Strategic Communications and Business. She loves photography, swimming, being outdoors, and searching for the perfect sushi roll.

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