By: Julian Brenman ’20
The sweet odor of paperbacks, the feeling of the tips of recently sharpened pencils, and the charm of chalk dust are all things that invigorate Ms. Katie Dickerson, an English and homeroom teacher and co-advisor to Focus.
The education lover reflects on the experience she had when she was a younger youngster living in Brick, New Jersey, studying in high school: “I really loved school. I was really nerdy, which I’m sure is not a surprise to anyone. My teachers were really important to me when I was younger and I think that’s why I knew I wanted to become a teacher. During my junior and senior years of high school, I had two teachers who were very influential for opposite reasons. For my junior year, my AP American Literature teacher was a lovely person. She was very sweet, she was very caring and she was very helpful if I had a problem that I needed help with. She made English really fun. My senior year, I had a teacher who was not very nice. She was actually pretty mean. She kind of shaped the way I teach because she taught through embarrassment and shame. I learned what not to do by observing her. Though she was mean, she was pretty smart, though.”
After she was graduated from high school, Ms. Dickerson studied at Arcadia University. At Arcadia, she majored in English, minored in Spanish and sociology, obtained her secondary education certificate and was part of the honors program. All of this led to her earning a Bachelor’s Degree in English. As a college student, she studied abroad to improve her Spanish skills in Spain during her freshman year; in Argentina when she was a sophomore; in Guatemala while was a junior. Ms. Dickerson says the following about her experience studying abroad and her level of proficiency in Español: “It was really great studying abroad. I am ‘fluent-ish’ in Spanish. I know enough to get by in a foreign country, but my grammar is not perfect. It comes back pretty fast, though. I visited Peru this past summer, and I was surprised that I remembered words that I hadn’t used in a few years.”
Getting back to English, Ms. Dickerson first taught English to ninth and eleventh graders at Esperanza Academy in Philadelphia and reflects on that experience: “It was a good first place to teach. It was kind of challenging, which prepared me to teach at other places. There was a lot of support for me.” Following two years at Esperanza, Ms. Dickerson joined the faculty of Philadelphia’s Olney Charter High School, where she taught English for half a decade and later became the head of the English department. It was over the course of her tenure at these two institutions that Ms. Dickerson studied at night and earned a Master’s Degree in English.
Though she enjoyed her time at Olney, Ms. Dickerson expressed a desire to grow. She shares, “with seven years of teaching experience, I was the most experienced English teacher at the school, which in some ways was really frustrating, because I wanted other people to learn from who’ve been doing this for a longer time. I started looking around for schools with English departments with more experience. Some friends who work at other private schools in the area mentioned that Friends’ Central had an opening. So, I sent in my resume, Mr. Vernacchio called me, we did a skype interview, I delivered my ‘demo lesson’ and then I was invited to join the team.”
Ms. Dickerson describes her observations during her first few months on City Ave: “Something that I still can’t get over and that shocks me every day, in a good way, is the amount of freedom and trust we give the students. Students can be anywhere on campus, which is so unheard of where I was teaching before. I think this freedom helps to build relationships between staff and students and students and the institution.” When asked how she enjoys advising the staff of Focus, Ms. Dickerson responds, “It’s been a cool way to get to know students who I don’t teach and to learn about things that happen around campus that I wouldn’t otherwise know about.”
When Ms. Dickerson isn’t educating, advising, or “English-ing” she enjoys kickboxing, visiting the gym, dining at the Trolley Car Diner in Philadelphia, and using her lifeguarding certificate, which she has had for more than half of her life, to teach young children how to swim. In addition, Ms. Dickerson was on her high school’s track team and climbed an active volcano in 2009. Her favorite hangout? On campus, the adirondack chairs in the Felsen Common, and in general, the Jersey native exclaims without a pause, “The beach!”