Making Room for Voices
One of the central tenets of ethnography is “thick description,” the act of embedding yourself in a cultural community and recording in rich detail everything you witness, from customs and traditions to the minute social interactions that define everyday life.
For Samantha Camera ’01MEd, ethnography is emblematic of education itself.
“We have to think about the knowledge that students arrive with,” says Camera, who teaches anthropology, history, and social science electives at Amherst (Mass.) Regional High School (ARHS). “If we as teachers can honor and learn from that, we can create a curriculum that speaks to who students are.”
Camera is an enthusiastic and experienced curriculum designer. When she began teaching at ARHS, she moved to revise the content covered in anthropology and psychology, wrote curriculum for Latin American history and world religions, and collaborated on the creation of courses in African and modern world history. Her motivation was a deep-rooted desire to make learning a genuine experience, something that students not only find interesting, but want to engage with on a meaningful level.
“I zeroed in on history and social studies because I found more room for voices,” says Camera. “For me, teaching is about finding out what students are curious about, and then writing a curriculum that commits to hearing all of those stories and voices. It’s founded in the possibilities.”
“My whole purpose of being here is to honor their desire to learn.”
As a master’s student in the College of Education, Camera encountered faculty members passionate about unpacking those pedagogical possibilities. One of her mentors in the Secondary Teacher Education Preparation (STEP) program was Robert Maloy. Another key influence was Robert Sinclair, a professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies. Both Maloy and Sinclair encouraged Camera to build on the ideas she had about experiential learning and fostering learning environments based on active listening.
“I began to see the big picture in different ways, especially beyond the curriculum,” she said.
When the pandemic forced schools into emergency remote learning, Camera prioritized establishing technology training programs for faculty. She also focused on providing mental health resources to mitigate burnout. The process is still ongoing and requires immense creativity in planning, she said, but the overall atmosphere at ARHS is one of optimism.
Camera’s next goal is to earn her principal’s license, which requires completing a rigorous accreditation program over the next two years. Her passion for creating great curricula—and motivating others to do so—keeps her anchored.
“I like helping people shift their lens and how they see the world,” she said. “I want my students to understand the importance of building rapport with community members.”