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Female student standing in the middle of outdoor walkway

Ali Amberg

“My brain feels like it has grown ten-fold from learning, applying, and reflecting on everything. I have a pocket full of classroom management tricks [and] a whole yearlong unit on wonder …”
GSE Program: 
Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP)
Age: 
26
Hometown: 
Redondo Beach, CA
Degree(s): 
BA in French Literature, University of California, Berkeley
BS in Conservation Resource Studies, University of California, Berkeley

You’re more than halfway through STEP-Elementary. How would you describe the experience?

It’s been quite the whirlwind! I’ve bounced around from six year olds last June to middle schoolers in December. My current class of second graders is lively, curious and imaginative. So far, I’ve enjoyed pursuing scientific questions with them. We’ve co-written poetry and belted out the “Sandwich Song.” It’s been quite the journey already.

My brain feels like it has grown ten-fold from learning, applying, and reflecting on everything. I have a pocket full of classroom management tricks, a whole yearlong unit on wonder, and notebook upon notebook of sketches, questions and tips from placement. There are really jam-packed weeks, during which I’m mad-paced biking from meeting to meeting to class, and much slower, relaxed weeks. In that space, I (mindfully) take a breath.

How has your teaching changed since the start of STEP last June?

I am more confident in my teaching. My voice is louder, clearer, more theatrical. My gestures are wilder. Storytelling comes more naturally. But for the most part, it’s about getting the kids to talk. To each other, to me, to their parents. Productive talk is where so much of the learning happens.

My teaching has also gotten more experimental. There are so many great ideas I’ve gleaned from my classes. We’ve recently been focusing on technology integration in science. Today, I taught a lesson on seed dispersal. Kids designed their own seeds in partners, crafted them in the Maker Studio and then filmed them in motion using a program called Explain Everything. We’re having a gallery share tomorrow, and I can’t wait.   

What led you to choose Stanford as the place to learn to be a teacher?

The instructors are excellent. They lead engaging lessons and are leaders in their fields. Many have past experience in elementary teaching, so they know what it’s like to be on the ground. They weave in their own past experiences with theory, and it makes class interesting.

Stanford also provides a lot of support in the process of becoming a teacher. It can get rough sometimes, but it’s nice to know we have people to lean on. The program director responds to our check-in notes from seminar if we’re having a tough week. Our supervisors help us troubleshoot classroom management issues.

Our classmates help us out when we’re sick (those kindergartner pesky germs!). And our Cooperating Teachers are understanding when we have a big paper due. STEP feels like a community. We take care of each other.

Ali Amberg

What were you doing prior to applying to the GSE?

Literally, right before move-in weekend, I was on the John Muir Trail. That was 21 days of river hopping, rock scrambling and blisters. It was quite the transition from trail life to student life, but I was able to clean up and put on my teacher shoes. The Sierra Nevada has its grip on me. For the past two years, I have established roots there, volunteering as an AmeriCorps member, finding like-minded people, and exploring the wilderness.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to be in a small town somewhere close to nature, whether in Alaska or California, teaching my students to be stewards of the environment. I hope to instill in them the values of lifelong learning and community.

What advice do you have for students who are trying to decide whether to attend STEP?

Come and visit. Schedule to sit in on a class and chat with us. We’re a friendly bunch and would love to help answer any questions. If you are unable to do that, try and get a STEP graduate on the phone.

Any tips for incoming students to help them get the most from their time in STEP?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask many. Ask big ones and little ones. Keep a notebook of them. Then go pursue the answers and talk to people.

Squeeze in what Stanford events you can. There’s a lot happening on campus. It was inspiring just recently seeing Bryan Stevenson talk about race and the criminal justice system. Though your schedule might not always be accommodating, try for one event a week. It makes you feel more a part of the campus community.

And lastly, we’re in the Bay Area. The city is just a Caltrain ride away. If you’re craving nature, Yosemite is three hours, Pt. Reyes one hour. And if you can’t venture out that far, head out to any of the local open space preserves.

This interview was conducted via email in February and March, 2016.