Over the hills and far away: Ms. Last

As the academic year comes to an end, several staff members prepare to leave.  Hence, The Woodstocker caught up with some of them to dig into their thoughts and future endeavors.

Ms. Nicole Last is regarded by many students as one of the best teachers at Woodstock. Known for her great organizational skills, Ms. Last makes demanding history courses seem almost easy.

“It’s really cool to hear that. It reminds me of why I got into teaching in the first place,” she said.

Ms. Last chose to study history in college. Initially, she had absolutely no intentions of going into teaching. In fact, she got extremely upset when people assumed that the only thing she could do after studying history was teach it.

After college, however, she decided to go to China and just try out teaching for a year to experience living abroad.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I was actually surprised at how much I loved teaching. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a history teacher.”

Ms. Last came to Woodstock in 2016, along with her husband and daughter.

In less than two years, she has quickly built her reputation as one of the most supportive teachers. She’s more than willing to give students additional help outside of class if they need it. And at dinner, one can almost always find her eating with her students.  

It is due to this engaged attitude that she is often one of the first adults students turn to for help.

Unfortunately for students, in less than a month, that will be gone as she prepares for her next stop: Beijing.

She said, “We actually lived in China for three years before our daughter was born. It has always sort of felt like home.”

Ms. Last and her family had been waiting for the air in Beijing to clear up. Since the air quality there quickly improved with the help of recent government intervention, they’ve decided to head back.

“We’re excited to go back,” she said. “And we’re excited to introduce our daughter to something that’s so important to us.”

Her daughter, Irena, doesn’t remember living anywhere but India.

Ms. Last said, “To her, India is home. Indian pop music is like the music of her soul. Dal and rice is like the food of her soul. I think she’ll still be Indian in China.”

Irena isn’t the only one who’s been deeply impacted by the school.

Ms. Last said, “One of my favorite things about teaching at Woodstock is the fact that I’m teaching world history in a room full of kids that are literally from around the world. And so you’re literally getting to do world history in a place where it has shaped the lives of all people sitting in the room. It keeps you honest, and it forces you to learn more. It’s also special because people engage with the material because they see how it has affected their lives.”

Diversity isn’t the only thing Ms. Last loves about this place.

“I also love that we have the scholarships for peace,” she said. “We reach out and make it possible for the people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to be here. Maybe that makes the rest of us remember that these conflicts exist, and they involve real people who have stories. I think they make Woodstock richer by coming and bringing in this other perspective.”

Although she has spent less than two years at the school, Ms. Last has lots of memories that she’ll take to China with her.

As she doesn’t call herself athletic, it is surprising to learn that most of her best memories here revolve around sporting events like Inter House Cross Country and Sports Day.

She said, “Last year, Sports Day, we were all down at Hanson when it started raining so hard. Everyone was trying to scooch in under the shed. It started leaking, and then we were told to go home. It was really funny.”

Other memories she values are the moments after her students finish their AP exams.

She said, “It’s really special when my students walk out of their AP exam and find me, and they’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I killed the SAQ.’ It feels like we’ve accomplished something together, and that’s really special.”

Her students often joke about how Ms. Last worries about their AP exams more than they do.

For example, on the day of the AP World History preliminary exam, Ms. Last met students before they entered Parker Hall to answer final questions and calm nerves. Four hours later, she was the nervous one, asking students how it went and if they thought they were prepared for the actual AP.

Out of the three AP history courses that she teaches, her favorite is European History.

“European History is really fun content-wise, as that’s what I studied in graduate school. But the World History course is also special to me as it’s tenth graders. They’re taking their first external exams, and so you literally get to see them grow up over the year.”

As she prepares to part ways with her students, she has some very specific words of advice for them.

She said, “I want my students to know that they can decide their own future, and the changes around them don’t have to hurt them. Even if I’m gone, I still believe in all of you.”

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