Teacher Profile: Donna Ellwood
Donna Ellwood, has been a high school history teacher for over 21 years. She moved from the Atlanta public school system in the 1989-1990 school year. Donna teaches Art and Society to the upper high school students. She is also teaching Caste, Class and Empire this year in the regular term. Donna often, by choice, teaches with her dear friend and colleague, Catharine Tipton during short term. This year they are teaching The Witch in History and Literature but in the past have taught a variety of classes including one of her favorites, The Study of Hair. We asked Donna to answer a couple of burning questions on her career, love of teaching and what keeps her motivated.
- How do you keep up with the level of commitment and enthusiasm each and every year? The level of commitment is easy to keep up.
You have a group of students in front of you, and if you are not committed they know it. My enthusiasm for teaching stays strong. It helps to continue my education. In the last few years I have traveled to both Italy and Mexico to take a look at the art I am teaching. Taking trips to places I teach about makes me want to learn more. The trips have also given me perspectives and insights that I could not get from my studies. Also my enthusiasm for teaching is fueled both by my students and colleagues. I like the energy of a school and particularly Paideia.
- What motivates you? I am motivated by knowledge that comes from the study of history and literature. I like to learn. I like to teach. When I am in the classroom it is exciting to watch my students grapple with and learn new things.
- What and/or who has been inspirational in your path to becoming a teacher? I think my biggest inspiration came from a series of teachers. The first one was the librarian at my local library in my hometown. He had books ready for me to read each week plus a conversation about each book when I finished. Throughout my educational experience I have had a number of great teachers. From my second grade teacher, Mrs. Gemsky, to my ninth grade English teacher, Miss Hall, and finally my eleventh grade America history teacher, Mrs. Richards, I learned about paying attention to my students, serious study and a passionate approach to teaching what I believe is important.
- When you think of an upcoming course, what do you think about and how do you decide your particular subject for that year? Some of those decisions are made in concert with our department. I think about what subjects are important for students to study, and what I like to teach. The decision combines both personal desire and what the department needs.
- What do you look forward to professionally? I like when I take the time to write a new course. It entails learning a whole new area of history. It also allows me to be creative. I think it is the most creative part of my job and therefore, if the course is successful, the most rewarding.
- How have you changed or grown in your years at Paideia? I have listened to so many stories from my students about their lives that I feel like I have grown more empathetic and more sensitive. I have also learned so much history as a result of teaching. I know so much more now than I did when I started.
- If you could pick any museum in the world to use as your classroom for one term, what would it be and why? I think I would pick the Vatican Museums. If I could take a group of students to the Vatican for a semester we could study classical, medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods of art and architecture. It would be great to teach standing under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Also the Vatican Museum has a huge number of manuscripts as well as a significant number of modern works. I was surprised at how many examples were included from different periods.
- How do you think education has changed and is changing for women? When I came to Paideia I was surprised by the strong role female students took in the high school. It felt different from the public school I taught in. It now looks as if young women have moved to the forefront in many fields and in many places.