Nurturing Growth In and Beyond the Classroom

by Kristin Duisberg
Five Questions with Laura Hrasky
Having spent many summers working at overnight camps in New Hampshire, Teacher of Mathematics Laura Hrasky P’18 always knew she wanted to be a teacher — but she’d thought her calling would be working with elementary schoolers. At Tufts University, she majored in mathematics “by accident” and then stayed on to earn her master’s degree in education. She taught middle school for four years in Cheshire, Connecticut, before spending nine years as a math teacher, dorm parent and coach at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut. She joined the St. Paul’s School community in 2001, when her son Joshua, who graduated with the Form of 2018, was a one-year-old.
Q1: You’ve been at SPS for 20 years this year. What keeps you here?
Every day is new. There are always new opportunities or new things that are happening, or I’m teaching a new class, or I have a new colleague that I’m getting to know and work with and learn from or a new group of advisees that I’m getting to know. So even though I’m doing the same thing year after year, it’s different because it’s different students, it’s different adults that I work with, and you just never know what to expect next.  At Family Weekend, I often find myself saying to parents that if you told me when I was in high school that I’d still be in high school when I was older, I would not have been happy. But I’m so lucky that I get up in the morning and I’m so excited to go and start my day.
Q2: So is that what makes you smile in the morning?
What makes me smile when I get up in the morning is knowing that I’m going to come to school, that I’m going to get to see the students that I work with. That I’m going to take my dog on a walk later in the afternoon on our campus, which is this beautiful place. And that as I’m walking every person that I walk by is going to say hello to me and I’m going to know that I’m at a place where I am appreciated.
Q3: In addition to teaching, you've been a tennis coach since you got here. You also advise the Student Council, work with the Hillel Society, serve as an adviser and work at the Ma Pool. How do you balance all those pieces?
I think at times it’s easier than others, but the thing that makes it all easier is when you have those days when you come home and you’re just so excited to share: “And this happened in class! And then I had this conversation with this other person … .” It’s the energy that I think I feel from my students or I feel from my colleagues. The other thing  is that I’m one of the Penn Teaching Fellow mentors. My mentee, who will be returning next year [as a faculty member], and I sit and plan our classes together and that’s another place I get my energy and inspiration. I feel like I’ve grown more as a teacher in the last couple of years than I did in my first few years — and I felt like I grew a lot in those first few years!  
Q4: Is there an experience among these that you’re most proud of?
Actually, I think the thing I’m most proud of is a role I didn’t even mention: I was a head of house [in Ford] for a long time. That was probably the job here at the School that I’m most proud of, because I think that role, head of house, is really at the heart of who we are as a fully residential school. 
Q5: Do you have a teaching philosophy?
What I try to repeat to myself as a teacher would be the same as what I do as a coach and adviser: Remember that these students, inspiring as they are, are still young people, and while what I cover in the math classroom is important, what’s more important to me is how they are growing, how they are learning to learn, how they might take a piece of something we do in class and apply it to their interactions with each other. For me, the culture of the classroom is really important, and it has nothing to do with math. I begin the year with our class agreements and we do a little exercise to come up with how we’re going to treat each other and how the class is going to run. Because to me, ultimately, those are the most important lessons that I think anyone can learn. 
Earlier this year, Hrasky spoke at length about her SPS teaching career.



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