About

Faculty in Focus: Claire Morris, Middle School Humanities Teacher

The Graded Gazette


As a former high school IB teacher, what do you enjoy about working with middle schoolers?

I love the enthusiasm middle schoolers bring to each class. There is never a dull moment. They love to play and share jokes. When you can connect with students through humor, laugh at yourself, and then blend in a bit of fun with learning, you will have them hooked. 

In middle school, no class is ever the same! The curriculum allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and comprehension in many different ways. As a middle school teacher, one needs to be well-prepared to fill the entire block with mini-lessons and activities and pivot when necessary. This environment has unleashed my creativity; I have learned to improvise and draw on my theater skills to foster collaboration. While the unpredictability of the middle school classroom may not suit everyone, it’s what keeps it fresh and exciting for me!

I appreciate the flexibility that middle school offers me to respond to student needs. Teaching IB, there is more pressure to cover the vast curriculum and content and help students develop skills within a short timeframe. I draw a lot from my experience teaching high school, this advantage provides me with an understanding of where middle school students will be headed. 

 

Growing up in South Africa at the end of the Apartheid era, you witnessed inequity. How do you incorporate the lessons you learned as a child into your humanities lessons? 

Sharing my experience growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid era is both a privilege and a tremendous responsibility.

Despite the initial discomfort, it’s crucial to present this 'hard history.' The sixth-graders have been eager to delve into such topics and make connections across time and place.

In the classroom, I engage students and foster empathy through role play, stories, anti-Apartheid protest music, and the poetic words of the era’s activists. My greatest role model, Nelson Mandela, famously said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.’ Although my memories of this painful historical period are deeply personal and vivid, I value the platform I have as an educator to share these stories and the experiences of others from my home country. My goal is to inspire positive change. 

Building trust in the classroom involves vulnerability. As American professor and author Brené Brown so succinctly sums up, ‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.’ Nelson Mandela endured so much, and yet, the humility and forgiveness he demonstrated in post-Apartheid South Africa offered valuable lessons on moving forward with hope. We can all continue to learn from these lessons. 
 


How did you decide that you wanted to become a teacher?

My first teaching experience was during a university theater course when my classmates and I were assigned to teach Shakespeare's Macbeth to students from an economically disadvantaged community. 

To make the story accessible, we utilized theater techniques like role play, translated parts of the play into Zulu, inserted common vernacular, and transformed the three witches into sangomas (highly respected traditional healers). It was a challenge, but forging special connections with students and the incredibly rewarding experience of assisting them in grasping the material made me realize my passion for teaching. Previously alien-like Shakespearean words lifted off the page and became meaningful for them. It was a pivotal moment for me to witness the learning process unfold and transcend language barriers. What other job could offer such a challenge and provide such great reward simultaneously?

 

What do you enjoy most about teaching public speaking?

Teaching public speaking brings me great joy. It's one of my favorite courses to teach. Because public speaking is an elective, in most cases, students choose to enroll. It makes all the difference when they truly want to be there. How brave, right? At their age, I never would have had the same courage. My students impress me with their willingness to experiment with different methods of engaging an audience. What I find especially gratifying is seeing my students develop self-confidence, control, and poise in front of different audiences. What they learn in public speaking strengthens crucial soft skills required for their future success. 

 

What role has theater played in your life?

Theater has significantly shaped my life. As a shy child and preteen, public speaking was something I avoided at all costs! The turning point for me was in eighth-grade theater. The class developed my self-confidence. My classmates and I felt comfortable taking risks without fear of failure, a philosophy I strive to bring into my own classroom. 

I use my theater background to create comfortable, experiential learning moments in which my students are willing to be vulnerable and curious. They develop confidence by sharing perspectives and, in turn, learn how to be active, respectful listeners. English language learners also gain confidence in a low-stakes, inclusive environment. I often incorporate Jonothan Neelands’ Drama in Education strategies, especially his forum and community theater techniques for the classroom, adapted from the work of South American theater practitioner Augusto Boal. This approach helps students make deep connections and transfer their understanding in applicable and memorable ways. 

I have strived to emulate the theater teacher who first encouraged me as a stuttering eighth-grader. She influenced me to pursue theater throughout secondary school. Eventually, I chose to study drama and English literature at university. She also encouraged me to write scripts and monologues, stepping into the characters' shoes. There’s no better way to build meaning and gain perspective. You will never forget the teachers who have had an impact on you, and I try to apply my mentor’s approach with my own students: with energy, sincerity, an enthusiastic love of learning, and personal stories, connecting the material we are learning to the experiences of my audience.

 

As both an international teacher and parent at Graded, what have the school and Brazilian culture provided for your own children?

Moving from the Middle Eastern desert to the lush greenery of Brazil was like discovering an oasis. When we arrived, our children were just the right age to experience a new culture and language. Brazil reminds us more of ‘home’ with its beautiful beaches and its breathtaking nature. We love the vibrant, friendly culture here and the vivacity and charm students at Graded bring to the classroom. Having my whole family at the school is a blessing. I am confident that my children are receiving an excellent education, and witnessing their various activities brings me joy. My husband and I are humbled to teach alongside world-class, hard-working teachers from whom my children benefit. The advantages of their Graded education are evident during our daily dinner conversations. Our children eagerly share animated stories about their day, their learning experiences, and new discoveries. Their quick acquisition of Portuguese has also impressed us. Graded is undeniably an outstanding school, and we are grateful to be part of it.
 


Rumor has it that you are a baker! How did you learn this skill, and what are some of your favorite treats to bake?

Yes, this is true! My aunt taught me how to bake during my school holidays. Baking is my stress reliever, and I enjoy sharing the treats— especially since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth myself. Every Friday, I try to bring in goodies for my advisory students. We also have a birthday cupcake tradition; they get to choose the cupcake flavor and icing when it’s their birthday month. I love that Brazilians share my enthusiasm for celebrating birthdays. 

The cookies below are my family's favorite. They are quick to make, the ingredients are easily available, and anyone can do it (you don’t have to be a Masterchef)!

 

Claire’s Chocolate Crunchies with Brazilian Brigadeiro

Biscuit ingredients:

  • 200 g butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut 
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup 
  • 5 ml vanilla essence

Topping ingredients:

  • 200 ml condensed milk
  • 100 g cocoa powder
  • 30 ml coconut oil
  • 300 g baking chocolate/chocolate chips (we prefer Nestlé)

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, mix all dry biscuit ingredients together except for the bicarbonate of soda.
  2. On the stovetop, melt the butter with the maple syrup and vanilla essence, and then add the bicarbonate of soda. This will cause a foaming effect.
  3. Once the ingredients are melted and combined, remove the mixture from the stove and mix with the dry biscuit ingredients using a wooden spoon.
  4. Once the combination is mixed together, transfer it to a glass Pyrex dish, either rectangular or square, of approximately 20 cm x 15 cm.
  5. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes (or until golden brown).
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  7. While this is cooling, combine all of the topping ingredients over low heat on the stovetop and melt together, stirring until smooth.
  8. While still warm, spread the topping over the baked biscuit layer, then refrigerate it until the topping hardens. 
  9. Cut into squares, and you’re ready to eat or share with your loved ones!