The first sad thing happened in 2020, just as CM1 teacher Olivia Mount was six weeks into her in-class training program to complete her master’s degree in Elementary Education from St. Mary’s College in California: the whole world shut down due to Covid. Only by counting up all the informal hours she’d spent in classrooms was she able to graduate.
The second sad thing came a year later as Olivia, now finally pursuing her lifelong desire to teach, found herself attempting to instruct first graders in reading - online. “It was insane,” she says. “In some cases there would be a half-dozen kids bottled up in their house all trying to do school work online with only one person helping them get set up and connected.”
The third sad thing happened the following year, as Olivia taught in classrooms filled with students who’d never actually attended real-life school before. “It was even more insane because the social skills and learning habits just weren’t there,” she says. “They were all basically two years behind in everything, starting out fresh at six years old having missed out on a lot of crucial development.”
For Dallas-native Olivia Mount, the first years of teaching hadn’t turned out to be anything at all like what she had expected them to be. “You know, I think in a way those years took something away from me, too. It was a challenging period in time for everyone.”
But then something wonderful happened. Olivia found her happy place at Dallas International School.
Having spent many youthful years attending international schools at home and abroad, she had heard about Dallas International School. “I had attended St. Monica’s and Ursuline here in Dallas, too - so I had a deep appreciation for smaller private schools,” she says. "I never thought about actually teaching here, though."
Her father’s career in the oil and gas industry took her away to far-away places - the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Canada and Kazakhstan - where she experienced and learned about other cultures while attending American schools. That background gave Olivia a yearning to learn more about all things international. “Travel, travel, travel - that’s always been my dream. Teach me a word in your language,” she says. “As an American expat, I've been opened up to many things - and that openness has come to affect how I approach pretty much everything in life.”
She teaches English to 4th graders as well as English as a Second Language (ESL), which causes her to marvel at how quickly non-English speakers can take to the language. Creating the spark that leads to learning often involves finding a subject that students find interesting. “I did a lesson on latitude and longitude that I thought might be the most boring thing in the world to them,” she says. “But they were engaged and willing to make the jump to English to learn all about it.”
Olivia shares the story of how one student became fascinated with volcanoes while watching a short video in English. “He had previously shown moments of hesitation about the language,” she shares. “But volcanoes really drew him in. The next thing I knew, he showed up one morning and said, ‘Good morning, Ms. Mount,’ so apparently we'd found the moment we needed.”
She confesses that she loves to see underdogs come out on top, which is why her free time is spent fostering puppies for a local animal rescue group. “I like to find and help stray puppies,” she says. “Maybe that’s why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place - to help create success stories.” One puppy she fosters will soon be adopted out and even though she knows it’s going to a good home, “It’s going to be extremely hard for me.”
A big part of what Olivia does in class is trans-languaging, a teaching technique that she says allows students to make natural connections between languages (and even ideas) so that they can view a topic from different perspectives, different angles. “I’ve been amazed by how it contributes to deeper conversations and understanding. One recent discussion on Black History Month led to another about Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and then on to Greta Thunberg. These kids are very aware - and learning new languages only strengthens that.”
Olivia is also conscious of the specialness that embodies the Churchill Way campus. “Going out into the courtyard at midday, the tables are filled with teachers having coffee or lunch. There is just this great vibe. I feel like I’m a part of a wonderful community after only a little more than half a year.”
In just that short time, DIS has grown equally fond of Olivia. During one recent assembly featuring an Irish dance troupe to celebrate the Year of Ireland, she surprised everyone by joining the group and clogging right along to Irish folk favorites, to which students and faculty cheered. “I had done ballet growing up, but later joined that very same Irish dance company that we had that day - so I remembered everything.”
So Olivia Mount, perhaps disillusioned by a trio of sad things that happened between college and starting her profession, has found a new inspiration - a spark - for teaching. “Even the very first day at DIS, meeting everyone and seeing everything for the first time, I knew this was where I wanted to be. I love coming to work every day and working with these remarkable children,” she adds.
“DIS is my happy place.”
And that is a very happy thing indeed.