Teaching Like a Champion at IPA: Meet Peggy Larkin

There is a popular book among K-12 educators called Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. Irvington Community School, Inc. is very fortunate to have such champions on staff. One, at Irvington Preparatory Academy (IPA), is Peggy Larkin. She has been with IPA since its inception.

Ms. Larkin’s English Language Arts classroom is legendary for being a comfortable space where students always feel welcome. Although appreciating English literature and the craft of writing doesn’t come easily to all students and can be intimidating, Ms. Larkin will show them the way to relate to the material and respond to it, learning something important about themselves in the process. This is the very embodiment of teaching like a champion.

We asked Ms. Larkin to share some thoughts about her teaching career at IPA. Here is what she had to say…

Why did you become a teacher?
I knew I wanted a job in which I get to help people, so I was planning to go to medical school. But the summer after my sophomore year of college, I volunteered at the YWCA in Cincinnati for their GED-prep program. Working with adults who wanted to earn their General Education Diploma was intimidating, because they were older than me, but the pride I saw in their eyes when they mastered a new concept gave me a feeling of joy I can’t describe. I became a teacher because I love watching people ‘get it,’ and teaching lets me do that every day.”

What do you enjoy most about your work here at IPA?
The staff and students! I love working with a team of dedicated, hard-working people who really care about doing what’s best for students, and I love getting to know our students at a pivotal time in their lives. Teenagers are developing their own identities and really coming into their own as individuals, and I love being a part of that. IPA is small enough that I can really get to know my students and watching them develop over their four years here is an amazing experience.

What is your favorite lesson to teach?
It feels great to really nail a lesson that’s fun and engaging, but my favorite lesson to teach is usually the lesson I’ve most recently put together! I really enjoy developing new ways to get students interested in reading and writing, because I’m passionate about those things, so any lesson where I can see that excitement starting to build is a fun one for me. Some personal favorites are teaching ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by W. W. Jacobs, Act III Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet (the part where Tybalt comes looking for Romeo and starts a fight… no spoilers!), and doing a Reader’s Theater reading of ‘The Killers’ by Ernest Hemingway in American Lit.”

What is the strangest situation you’ve encountered as a teacher?
Other than teaching next to Garrett Uhlman for so many years? It’s hard to come up with an answer to this, because students are always outdoing themselves. I guess the strangest thing for me recently is seeing so many former students join the staff alongside me! Getting to work with Ms. Tolliver, Mr. Smith, and Mrs. Gibson is wonderful – and very, very weird — since I remember them as students! Not to mention running into Mrs. Walden and Mr. Catt at the elementary school.

What are your greatest challenges as a high school teacher?
Grading!!!!!!!! There are a lot of demands on my time, and I love coming up with new lessons and activities, interacting with students, and reading… but the grading definitely gets tedious.”

Why should any high school student not attending IPA consider doing so?
We won’t let you fall through the cracks. If you want to succeed, we will help you, no matter what. If you’re behind, if you need extra help, if you need more one-on-one time, or if you just need somebody to text your mom once a week and let her know whether or not you have missing work, this is the school for you! A small school like IPA lets students shine, since you’re able to get involved in leadership, make the team, start the club you’ve always wanted to join…. We lack programs that larger schools might have (vocational training, football, etc.), but we make up for it by providing individualized attention and a chance for you to step up and shape your own education.”

What have you learned most about yourself as a teacher?
How lucky I was to have love, support, and stability as a teenager, and how important it is to me that I be able to offer that to others whenever I can.”