Sarah Beckwith started at Canisius in 2010 teaching English to freshmen and sophomores. She has served as a leader on several of the school's Emmaus retreats and a service immersion trip. She also co-chairs the Ignatian Scholars program and co-coordinates the Learning Lab with fellow teacher Maria Todtenhagen.
This involvement sets the tone for who Mrs. Beckwith is as a teacher. She does not just cater to just the intellectual development of the student, but also works to help each student grow emotionally, morally, and spiritually. In the classroom, rather than just teaching students about great literary works, Mrs. Beckwith uses these works as vessels to teach students "what it means to be human," to build their sense of justice, and teach them how to "take action and communicate as adults and citizens."
Mrs. Beckwith challenges students to examine themselves and society through these works. Humans are inherently flawed, and the characters of the books they read are no exception to this rule. These characters therefore can help students understand the world around them. She uses these flaws to discuss ethics, especially Catholic ethics. Mrs. Beckwith also places a big emphasis on the concept of the hero. Throughout the year, she has led students in a reflection on what it means to be a hero, comparing this ideal to the characters they read about and interact with, and eventually leading them to question both who they are as individuals and the society around them.
With every major work, Mrs. Beckwith assigns students some type of project centered around social justice. Most recently, she used "Macbeth" to garner discussion and teach students about criminal justice, and the ethical and practical considerations of working with laws. This serves as the practical basis from which a student can learn about the real world while simultaneously examining a work of fiction.
Mrs. Beckwith firmly places the focus on the student, rather than abstract ideas of education. She prefers to work as more of a mentor, guiding students along their academic journey. In class, she prefers Socratic seminars, where students are able to discuss the parts of the story they find most interesting or challenging. She pushes for more active learning, where student contributions and engagement guide the class, rather than lecture. This allows her to not only garner interest in the topic, but bring the real world to the classroom.
This mindset carries over to her work with the school's Learning Lab, which is where students can go and get extra help. Here, she continues to place the emphasis on the student, and works to understand who they are as a person. She finds what these students enjoy and what they would like to do in the future, and uses these answers as the impetus to help the student excel. She provides guidance and builds their sense of confidence and grit, helping them become a better man in the process.
As co-chair of Ignatian Scholars program, she is hoping to help the students take more of a leadership role in the school. Presently, membership in the program is offered to students in the freshman year, and is sustained by taking at least two honors or AP classes a year, and maintaining a certain GPA. In return, the students are able to partake in several events and field trips that help break the student out of their normal bubble, and expose them to new ideas and viewpoints of the world. This year, Mrs. Beckwith has organized several fieldtrips, allowing these students to visit the Albright-Knox art gallery and City Hall. On top of that, the program also offers free tickets to the UB speaker series, allowing Canisius students to experience lectures not normally available to other high school students.
In the end, Mrs. Beckwith is proud to be a member of the Canisius Community. First, she always feels like "God sent me here, that it was meant to be." She has two brothers; one of whom graduated from Canisius in 2009, and another who will graduate this year. She herself received her master's degree from Canisius College. So, for her, Canisius has always been part of her history, and she is proud to play a role in it.
Second, she feels that Canisius really is a community. Everyone from the students, to the teachers, to the administration are united in purpose. This allows them to "come together as one institution," providing an excellent opportunity for students to "evaluate their life choices" and engage with the material. This unity, in the end, fosters an academic environment conducive to their development as the best young men for and with others they can be.