AP Chemistry teacher Karolina Fraczkowska began reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1866 masterpiece “Crime and Punishment” in February of 2020, “just for fun,” she said. “I wanted to start reading books again and had to start somewhere. So I thought, ‘Why not?’”
This seemingly offhand decision began a ripple effect across Peddie.
“I started talking with my AP Chemistry class about the book and would say, ‘Guess what’s happening in Chapter 1?’” said Fraczkowska. “A bunch of kids said, ‘Can we join you in reading it?’ so I said fine. When COVID started, the ‘Crime and Punishment’ Book Club met every Tuesday night for two hours over Zoom.
“I loved the book, and I loved talking to the students about it,” she said. “It was no pressure, just discussion, and I realized how much high school students also love the book.”
The ripple soon developed into a genuine groundswell of excitement. Reading the novel had inspired Fraczkowska to pursue a master’s degree in humanities, and she began to think even bigger. Yes, she taught chemistry. But why not add a “Crime and Punishment” class to her repertoire?
“The idea that I would love to teach the book got into my head, but I didn’t know how to make it happen,” she said.
The notion was stalemated until one day when Fraczkowska ran into Associate Director of Admission Hannah McCollum in the library.
“I was a Comparative Literature undergrad, and my languages were French and German,” McCollum said. “I had never read Russian literature. Then my daughter, who was in 7th grade during the pandemic, and I decided to read ‘Anna Karenina’ together. It was really fun. And I taught an elective in the spring of 2020 because I wanted to get back in the classroom; I started my career teaching English.
“In spring of 2022, I taught the same class and loved being back in the classroom, but was ready for something new.”
The women didn’t know each other very well. They were chatting about their common interest in literature when kismet struck.
“Karolina said, ‘I want to teach “Crime and Punishment,” but I need an English teacher to do it with,’” said McCollum. “I said, 'I've never read “Crime and Punishment,” and Karolina said, ‘You have to read it, and we’ll teach it together!’” So McCollum agreed.
Fraczkowska approached Associate Head of School Catherine Rodrigue. “I said, ‘I am doing a master’s degree in humanities, and I have an English teacher who will teach me how to be an English teacher,’” she said. “‘Can I teach an English class?’” Rodrigue, ever mindful of Peddie’s commitment to fostering innovation, recognized the potential for a rich and engaging learning experience for teachers and students and said yes.
(Fun fact: McCollum then mistakenly bought “War and Peace” and began reading that.)
Their idea now a reality, the women faced another obstacle: They realized their teaching approaches were dissimilar (though not incompatible).
“I assumed teaching ‘Crime and Punishment’ would be just like the book club during COVID. We would sit around the table and dive into deep questions, and of course, the students would understand everything they’d read,” laughed Fraczkowska. “Hannah was like, ‘no, no, no … I don’t think you can do that.’”
McCollum, who has a middle-school teaching background, was used to approaching her classes with more structure. “I write lesson plans for every class,” she said.
Their solution? To swap who would lead classes each day.
“I felt like I got to be a student in Hannah’s class every other day, and I got to be a teacher every other day,” said Fraczkowska. “We really see eye-to-eye on how to write a paper, how to approach the writing process.
“I love Hannah. I love working with her,” Fraczkowska continued. “In the end, it was us planning together. Our differences were our strengths.”
“I feel the same way,” said McCollum. “Karolina has a great way of creating a thread of conversation that gets into the depth of meaning, and the kids got so into it.
“We’re very different people and educators, but we’ve developed a lovely friendship through this class.”
STAYING ON TRACK
The next order of business for the pair was making sure their students kept up with the reading — no small task with a novel of this magnitude — and were held accountable for what they’d read.
“We knew you cannot read a 580-page book without reading every single night,” said McCollum. “And you cannot fall behind, because if you do, you will never catch up and finish it. We had nine seniors and two juniors, and we told them on the first day, ‘You will have to read 20-30 pages a night and will have a quiz every day.’ They came prepared!”
In light of the book’s challenges, Fraczkowska and McCollum made a point to add an element of play to the class. Together, they devised a “Crime and Punishment” bingo game.
“Every time a student got an answer right, they had to explain it,” said Fraczkowska. “It was hard. But they had so much fun,” McCollum said.