I’ve done it twice. It is like walking into the biggest game of your whole life knowing the rules, but not the game that needs to be played. The audience (or in this case the students) could need basketball, hockey, or perhaps they will need you to do gymnastics and flip-flop double twist everything you have ever done on its head.
And that is the beauty of the game. Starting a new school allows you to customize everything, from class schedule to modes of learning and atmosphere, precisely to what those 50 to 60 students need. If the students need me to do back flips for them to learn, then by God I will be doing back flips.
Innovative vs. Traditional
I’ve taught at a traditional high school before, and when I tried to do those aforementioned back flips, the teacher beside me called the principal to report that I had lost complete control of my classroom…no joke. Early Colleges allow teachers to do those things we so often encourage of our students: to think outside the box, to approach a problem from multiple angles, and to add ingenuity and personality into the work.
All too often teachers in traditional high schools are stripped of these rights and are required to fit the mold of “one size fits all” education. At an Early College teachers can and are even encouraged to find a different type, color, size and personality education for each student.
The Personalization Paradigm
This personalization is why I can honestly say I don’t think I will be able to go back to teaching at a traditional high school. I get down and dirty with my students. They know me and I know them. I know their likes, their dislikes, their inner struggles, and their quirks…and they know mine.
It is this mutual understanding that allows students to truly feel comfortable, safe and willing to soak up every bit of genius knowledge I impart to them. (Okay, so more realistically…they usually actually enjoy coming to my class and are engaged in what we are doing because I know them well enough to make it matter to them.)
Education matters more when it is personalized. Students who come to our school have all shown interest in the health or life sciences and we, as teachers and leaders, would be bonkers if we didn’t use this interest to our advantage.
This school-wide focus manifests itself in many ways: students take field trips and hear guest lecturers every Friday exploring different medical and health fields, as an English teacher I choose non-fiction articles that have to do with health related issues, and in math they have even calculated how many hamburgers it would take to power a light bulb as part of a study about the effects of fast food on our society. As the years progress we hope to guide the students into internships and hands-on activities that will launch them into their future goals and careers.