Conant educator rediscovers love of teaching over sabbatical

  • Conant social studies teacher Seth Farmer intended to use his sabbatical to research local history, but instead used his time away from the classroom to reinvent himself as a teacher. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Conant social studies teacher Seth Farmer intended to use his sabbatical to research local history, but instead used his time away from the classroom to reinvent himself as a teacher and get back his love of educating. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Conant social studies teacher Seth Farmer intended to use his sabbatical to research local history, but instead used his time away from the classroom to reinvent himself as a teacher and get back his love of educating. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/6/2019 8:10:23 PM

The best way Conant High School social studies teacher Seth Farmer could describe his teaching approach in recent years was that he had his feet in two different worlds.

With all the changes to Conant’s educational approach in recent years, Farmer, who began teaching at the school in 2004, was having a hard time breaking away from his old style and adapting to the outcome-based directive adopted by the high school.

In other words, he needed a break to find his way.

When Farmer applied for a sabbatical two years ago, it was with the intention of completing a local history project that his students could then apply to what he was teaching at the local level.

“There wasn’t enough local history in my lessons,” Farmer said.

Farmer taught the first semester last school year and then left his daily duties to embark on his local history project of Cheshire County. Farmer said Conant teachers are allowed to apply for a sabbatical once every seven years and that he was paid half his salary. He fully intended to immerse himself in all things local history, but as he began researching his project it became apparent that his time away from the classroom could be used in a much more productive way.

So Farmer used his sabbatical as a way to reinvent himself as a teacher. While it wasn’t what he proposed or initially set out to do, Farmer felt it was in the best interest to his students.

“The district got back so much more from me than what my proposal intended,” Farmer said. “I needed to love teaching again because quite frankly, I had lost it.”

Farmer will be the first to admit that his love of teaching had been fading in recent years. The district changes had created this inner struggle and one he just couldn’t shake.

But with time to reset and recharge, Farmer came back to Conant this fall with a new outlook – and a new approach to better serve his students. He likes to think of himself as Mr. Farmer 2.0.

“I really needed to understand the outcome-based teaching and design my lessons around it,” Farmer said. “So my No. 1 priority was to drop everything I did before and start over with this new approach.”

The outcome-based education is a model that rejects the traditional focus on what the school provides to students, in favor of making students demonstrate that they “know and are able to do.”

He felt he was asking students to perform too many tasks at once and this has simplified what they need to achieve and how to achieve it.

Farmer took a deep look at his teaching approach, saw what he needed to change and improve and set out to become the best version of himself.

“What came out of it was a reenergized teacher who has shifted his approach,” Farmer said.

He bought himself an iPad and learned how to use Google Classroom. His course syllabus, assignments, expectations are all outlined in a digitized format for easy access and instant feedback. Because he wanted to be more in tune with the technology that his students are most comfortable with.

He redesigned his classroom over the summer to give it a modern feel, where instead of being the focal point at the front of the room, the students now surround him in a circle meant to be a more engaging environment. He moved his desk out of the corner and made the source materials, including a set of six binders filled with course expectations, more readily available.

“I was stuck in the way of the past. I was stuck in content mastery,” Farmer said. “And I realized a lot of what I had been doing the last few years wasn’t reaching the kids.”

Farmer still intends to complete his project, and wants to include his students in the collection and organization of the materials. That way they feel more invested in it and gives them an opportunity to help steer where it ends up.

While Farmer has felt different this year, he knows his evolution as an educator will continue. He has a new outlook and it’s something he never would have been able to achieve had he not taken the sabbatical.

And the ones who will benefit the most are the students.


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