By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Claire Federhofer hails from a small South African town just outside Johannesburg. She relocated to the United States in 2017 to join her partner who is a faculty member at the University of Michigan. Prior to completing her master’s degree and certification at the University of Michigan, she taught in person and online for the African Leadership Academy, a school that offers a two-year university preparation program for students between 16 and 20 from all over Africa who demonstrate leadership potential and entrepreneurial ability.
Federhofer taught the Cambridge International literature and language curricula, as well as a writing and rhetoric class. Before that, she taught theater, history, and English in the South African public education system.
Huron Principal Che´ Carter says that Federhofer only sees the possibilities and potential in her students—not the obstacles.
“This is the mindset of a post-pandemic leader of learners,” he says.
When she isn’t in the classroom at Huron, Federhofer loves to read, cook, travel, sing and dance. In June 2022, she graduated from Middlebury College Bread Loaf School of English with a Master of Arts in Literature.
How does it feel to be back in the classroom this year?
I love teaching whether it is in or out of the classroom. Although the online year was challenging and there were a lot of new ways to think about learning and teaching, I loved adapting my teaching to support my students. I love the human contact and connections that we are privileged to have when we are in the classroom but I tried my best to get that with students in the online classroom. Some of the strategies I used in my Zoom room have transitioned well to in-person teaching and made me a better teacher.
When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
Chaos. This is year 25 for me and my first year was completely overwhelming. I taught 8th and 9th graders because 8th grade is the first year of high school in South Africa. I had large classes of students with many who were reading below grade level. It was a cookie-cutter curriculum which I didn’t find particularly exciting. But that year I learned that I was in the right place in the classroom. I prioritized caring for my students and learning from every experience. I learned the power of reflection and care in a public school setting.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Don’t expect perfection. Listen and watch whoever you can. Have your own strategies but also think about how you can use others or what others may be doing that works well. Listen—to your students, your colleagues, your parents. Don’t take anything personally. Never underestimate the impact you have on one soul.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I am not really sure. I had some incredible teachers in school. I just always wanted to be a teacher. My poor cousin was subjected to playing school for most of his visits to our house. I loved going to school. I tried to be as involved as I could at school. I think that teaching allows me the opportunity to learn and grow and change as I get further into my career. Teaching is always evolving and I hope I am able to evolve with it.
How are you involved with the Huron Players?
I am the advisor for Huron Players. This means that I choose the productions, select members for the production team, direct shows (although I can give this job to someone else), run rehearsals, and work with students to design programs, posters, t-shirts, etc. I just spend time with creative humans and create a space for them to be who they want to be.
Why should students consider trying out for future productions of the Huron Players?
There is something for everyone at Huron Players. Sometimes it’s silliness, sometimes it’s seriousness, sometimes it’s advice and sometimes it’s hard work. We have new opportunities that come up with each show and there is always space for new members. It is a safe space to try something new and we like to include students in the process as much as possible.
What was always written on your report card in high school?
“Claire likes to take charge when working in a group.” I think “bossy” was often the adjective used to describe me.
How does your childhood in South Africa impact your life today? Your teaching?
I think it gives me opportunities to talk to students about other perspectives and ways of thinking. Pop-Tarts are the things that have come up most often over the last few years. We do not have Pop-Tarts in South Africa and when I say that students are immediately drawn in. We talk about what a different world it is there and what things I would bring here if I could. I recently chatted with some DP Literature students about living during the change from Apartheid to democracy. I think my South African roots allow me to think about things in a different way and share that experience with students.
Describe an average workday.
I get to school at 6:45 so that I can set up for the day. I like to get copying or other setup activities done then. Students start arriving at 7:45 and it’s all a rush from there. I start my day with two senior DP classes which usually involved some discussion and writing. We are currently talking about the World and War. I then transition to my theater class where we are preparing to start rehearsals for a production of “Alice in Wonderland.” They will work on performance and focus on one production technique. I end the day with two sets of sophomores about to start a creative writing unit. And then it is off to Huron Players until 6 or 7. With tech week coming up it’s more like 9 or 10. But that’s my day.
What’s the happiest part of your day?
When my River Rat coffee arrives in first hour. (Students with IEPs—Individualized Education Programs— run a morning coffee shop where we order online coffee and they make and deliver it for us.)
As someone who loves to cook, describe your perfect meal. Who would be at the table, where would you be, and what would you be eating?
If I had unlimited space I would have all my family who are back in South Africa meet all the friends who take care of me here. Dinner would be roast chicken with roast potatoes, roasted beets, zucchini (baby marrow in South Africa), and stuffed butternut squash. This would happen at my childhood home in Benoni. There was always room for love in that house. And a big table for all the guests.
Anything to do with books.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
Hallway conversations, random check-ins, silly notes from students.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher? It’s a team effort. No one individual is responsible for the success of our students. We need to work together.