Faculty Profile: Peter McCuskey, 4th Grade Head Teacher
February 14, 2020
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I'm originally from Iowa. I got my Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and History from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Then after college, I moved to Seattle, which is where I started teaching. I got a job teaching first and second grade at University Child Development School, which is a very progressive project-based, inquiry-based learning school, which was a great school to get my start at because it shaped how I saw education.
While I was there, a group of Indian educators was touring the US looking for a school that they wanted to emulate as they started a pilot school in Mumbai, India. They fell in love with my school and signed a consulting business partnership. Part of the agreement was that they would bring some teachers from my school to India to start the school and I was offered a position to do that.
I spent three years in Mumbai helping to start the school. There I gained an international perspective of education. I came to New York for the first time to get my master’s degree at Columbia Teachers College in a program called International Education Development. The program focuses on the question of “how do we use education to build up communities and societies and economies?
I wanted to stay in New York and work in an international school, and through my research, I found Léman and applied for a job. I’ve been here for two and a half years.
What do you take from your experience working in India into your classroom?
It gave me an amazing perspective on the global reach of education and what education looks like in different parts of the world. Working in India also gave me a lot of confidence in myself as an educator. We had to convince parents of the importance of this kind of progressive education. In India, they have a very traditional approach to education. They view teachers as authority figure. We were really introducing something new.
There I further developed my beliefs as a teacher, and I came away feeling a lot more confident in who I was as an educator. After that experience and working in two similar schools, one in the US and one in India added to that perspective.
What do you like about being an educator in IB school?
I love the kind of constant connection to being global citizens and the international perspective of the IB. I think it's important that from a young age that kids are informed about what's going on in the world. When I was young there was a mentality that you shouldn’t talk about certain issues around students because they are too young to understand those issues, but that’s not the case here. Kids know what’s going on in the world and I think that if we're really being responsible educators, we are engaging in the difficult things as well as the easy and fun things. The IB is a conduit to facilitating that kind of conversation. Our community is part of something bigger, which makes our conversations much richer. In my classroom, we talk about current events every day. We're constantly seeing if we can connect our lessons to what’s going on in the world. And I think that all comes back to like seeing ourselves as global citizens, which is a big part of the IB learner profile and how the IB is structured.
How do you discuss current events in your classroom?
I think we often assume that students can't handle or won't understand difficult issues, but I think discussing them and breaking them down really helps them understand and feel more comfortable with what’s going on in the world. I think educating students helps them see a way forward and how we can kind of work together to mitigate some of the problems we see in the world. Each day we watch CNN 10, which is a short news show geared towards young people where they take on a lot of difficult issues including things like climate change and poverty. We take notes on it and we discuss it afterward. In my students’ PLPs (Personal Learning Projects) this year, they are going to create TED talks where they will take on a topic or an issue that they are interested in and then connect it to a global issue or global citizenship.
What does personalized learning mean to you and how do you implement it in your classroom?
Kids learn in different ways and they approach things in their own unique way, as they should. I think that goes back to what I said about teachers as facilitators as opposed to teachers as like dictators or authoritarian figures. It's not my role to tell kids how to do something. It's my role to show them different ways that they might do something and then give them a lot of choice and freedom to explore and then make a choice for themselves about what works best for them. I try to stay away from saying things like, “you should do this” but rather “one thing you might try is this” or “here are three different strategies you might use to explore this problem”. I think it comes back to the idea of how you frame the experience while still giving them a lot of freedom and choice to navigate and try out and make mistakes.
What is your educational philosophy?
My education philosophy is that kids can do anything if you treat them as capable human beings. We approach kids with a deficit mindset. They're not ready for this or they must do X, Y, and Z before they move on to this next thing. And sometimes that is true if you're scaffolding and building on other things. But I've found in my years of teaching that if you approach children with a kind of a can-do capability mindset, it’s amazing what they can do and how their confidence grows as a result. If you treat them younger than they are, they'll act younger than they are. However, if you treat them like capable adults, they will act older than their age. I try to remove myself as an expert and see myself as a partner for learning or a facilitator for learning. I'm sure all teachers have to kind of fight that temptation say, “I know how you should do this” or “I know what's best”. We can have opinions on things, but I try to remember that I'm here to help them learn. I'm not here to teach them everything I know.
What do you do in your free time?
I love to ride my bicycle. I'm a bicycle commuter to and I bike seven miles to and from Brooklyn. I'm also really into sports and activity including playing basketball and soccer. I like to write creative nonfiction. I’m taking a class in nonfiction writing, and I also do it in my free time at home. I love going to museums and trying emerging restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I love living in New York City because there’s so much to do and see.