Nicole Abrate Echezarreta ’20 interviewed Ms. Anna Kavalauskas, who joined the High School English Department in 2011 after serving as a counselor in the TASIS Summer Programs nearly a decade earlier, and crafted the following profile.
By Nicole Abrate Echezarreta ’20
“At times we can feel like we are the only people experiencing a challenge or struggle in life—or joy—but when we read a life-changing book, we become more grounded and connected to all people, everywhere—across the world and throughout time, and that human connection is comforting to me. We can also experience challenges and joys we might otherwise have never known. Once you read a book, your personal world grows that much bigger, and you can never un-read or un-know that story.”
This was the unexpectedly deep answer I received from High School English Teacher Ms. Anna Kavalauskas when I asked her the simple question: “What books have opened your perspective on life?” While listing authors such as William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, and Jonathan Franzen, among other more contemporary authors, Ms. Kavalauskas went a step further and explained how their books have opened her perspective, offering me a glimpse at her own development and awakening. She described how great writers manage to express people, places, and time periods in ways that drag you, the invisible audience, more and more into the settings and scenarios of their stories, inviting you to meet new people and to gain better understanding and sympathy for others’ circumstances, behaviors, and decisions.
Reading has always been a part of Ms. Kavalauskas’s life. Ever since she went to Catholic school in a suburb of Washington, DC, she loved learning from her English teachers, who, with their dry wit, peeled off the many layers of a good book. After graduating from high school with an IB Diploma, she majored in English Language and Literature at the University of Virginia (UVA) and soon after decided to study literature and philosophy for a semester in Vienna, Austria. It was there that she first found herself teaching, too, enrolling in an English as a Second Language teaching internship that brought her into a public school classroom twice a week. At the end of her semester abroad, she took a train to Lugano, Switzerland, where she had been hired as a Middle School Program counselor for The American School in Switzerland. This was in 2004.
Taking a break from summer studies at Oxford
Ms. Kavalauskas’s experience teaching in Europe was impactful, and she knew she wanted to return. After graduating from UVA, she moved back to Austria with a Fulbright grant to be an English-Language Teaching Assistant. For the next two years, she improved her German, learned to ski, and lived the adventurous life of a twenty-something spending all that she earned exploring Europe. Although she flew back to the United State to study law at the University of Pittsburgh, she soon felt that same longing to return to teaching and to Europe. After completing a Masters of Studies in Law, she flew back to Austria, this time to the Alps, where she earned her Tirolean ski instructor certification and taught both skiing and English while taking graduate courses in English and American Studies at the University of Innsbruck. She grew more interested in finding a full-time position at an international boarding school, and in 2011 she officially started teaching at TASIS.
Leading a service trip to Mongolia
With great excitement, Ms. Kavalauskas moved to TASIS and quickly found her teaching experience completely fulfilling and exactly what she had hoped for. She took advantage of opportunities to expand her passions in many areas, including service learning and athletics. A dedicated lifelong learner, she has since earned a Master of Education from Endicott College while teaching full-time, and she continues to pursue independent professional development at prestigious institutions such as University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and Phillips Exeter Academy.
A teacher’s constant hunger to learn unifies a class and strengthens its pursuit of the subject itself, leading the teacher to be more endearing and interesting in the eyes of his or her students. Ms. Kavalauskas is a shining example of this. “Most teachers are passionate about the subjects they teach, and as a teacher, you hope that your passion transfers to your students,” she said. The desire to educate and inspire students to love literature as much as she does and to grow into confident readers and writers is key to Ms. Kavalauskas’s teaching philosophy. She also believes that in her role as a teacher, it is essential to innovate and experiment in order to keep the learning process fresh and interesting.
According to Ms. Kavalauskas, one of the most important pieces of teaching advice she has gotten is to “never get too high or too low,” and when something goes wrong, to look for ways in which she can change her approach in order to improve the situation. This is what Ms. Kavalauskas does when she feels that a class was neither conclusive nor optimistic. There are always more books to read, more pedagogical approaches to try; one of the aspects of teaching she loves most is that it is a wonderfully and impossibly perfectible art. You can always expand your knowledge and improve your practice.
Above all else, Ms. Kavalauskas—who married High School Math Teacher Dan Schwartz in 2017, and they are expecting their first child in September—feels fortunate to be at TASIS. She particularly appreciates the opportunities she's had to teach a variety of subjects and classes—EAL, English Literature, IB, AP, etc.—to a diverse group of students, and her passion for teaching has only increased over time.
“Each year presents fresh opportunities to grow as a professional and to serve as a positive influence for a great new group of students,” she said. “I know I’m in the right place.”