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Five days a week, Deborah Fogg, a seventh grade Language Arts teacher at the Lancaster School in Lancaster, New Hampshire, takes a long lunch.
Normally, teachers at her school eat in the first five minutes of the 25-minute lunch period so they can take care of other things during the remaining time. For the last eight years, however, Fogg has devoted the entirety of lunch period to her students. Her pupils, both past and present, flock each day to a sign up to be one of the four kids to eat with her.
“It lets me feel the pulse of what’s going on with the kids,” says Fogg. “It’s been a great way to build relationships with them. We talk about whatever they want to talk about—basketball, school, home life. Middle school kids are like that. They will pour their hearts out if you just give them the opportunity.”
In all aspects of her teaching, Fogg strives to take advantage of the unabashed enthusiasm that can start to disappear as kids slip into adolescence. “They’re not too cool yet. They’ll get up and act, and they’ll write reams of stuff. They’re little enough so they’ll still be goofy for you,” she says. She also recognizes that her students are at a malleable age where a little patience and kindness can go a long way, especially at a moment when many kids and parents leave school and work only to go home and stare at a computer some more.
“It’s not just Language Arts they’re getting. I’m trying to teach them about being a good citizen and being a role model. And it’s about building relationships,” she says. “As [kids], we sat at the dining room table and ate together, all of us. Nowadays, kids are isolated. They go into their bedrooms and don’t interact. I think they’re missing out. So I try to make my classroom like a living room. I want them to come in and feel like they’re coming into their home. Once I build those relationships and establish that sense of community, my kids will do anything for me.”
Fogg, who is studying curriculum education at Walden University, always dreamed of teaching. Both her parents were teachers, and she grew up listening to her mother’s “Three F” teaching mantra: Be Firm, Fair, and Friendly. Her father taught science and often came home with stories about the classes he had taught that day. “Dinner conversation was always about education and lessons plans,” she said.
In the 1970s, Fogg put that dream on hold, leaving college to help put her husband through law school. Over the next many years, she stayed home to raise their two children. Then, at age 42, and after testing the waters as a substitute teacher for a few years, Fogg returned to get her bachelor’s in education.
But school wasn’t where Fogg got the charisma that keeps students coming to her lunch table every day. That, she says, comes from years of watching her father teach.
“When I would walk down the hall with him, [his students] would run up to him and say, “Guess what I just did?” In his classroom, he was always smiling and laughing and joking,” Fogg recalls. “He had this demeanor in the classroom that made me feel like, ‘When I grow up, I wanna be a teacher just like that.’”
Fogg’s daughter must have had a similar feeling watching her mother: She, too, became a seventh grade Language Arts teacher recently. “She and I are always calling each other talking about an idea or something she tried or something I tried. I’m sure we drive everyone around us nuts.”