I have to be honest, I started, stopped, deleted, restarted, deleted and started this post again repeatedly over the last few weeks. Why? Well one reason is my computer died in the middle of a post, and it sat for a week while I was getting it repaired. Whatever. Lame excuse.
Another reason is that I was not sure what to say, or how I felt about the change from high school teacher to college instructor. I think I am still not sure, but I am wrapping my head around it more and feeling better about myself and my thinking on that topic. This post will be a bit rambling, and more than a little stream of consciousness, but bear with it.
So, here it goes; good and bad. I am going to just get it all out and see where it leads.
First, the bad: I felt very guilty about leaving my school. Seriously. The process of getting this position took all summer. The interview was a 7 hour long day in the middle of July, and it was a week after that before I knew if I got the job or not. Teachers reported back to school on the 5th of August. I was not able to give my school or my department much time to hire a new math teacher to replace me. I hate that. That I left my high school without giving them a long time to search and find a replacement makes me feel like I let the people who I had a strong attachment and bond with down.
The good: This new program at the University of Nevada, Reno is amazing. Seriously. Why is not every university in the US using this model of teacher development for math and science? I mean, really. We all recognize there is difficulty in getting math and science teachers. The UTeach model out of Austin, TX is a great model to fight the shortage. It is actually doing good recruitment and instruction to bring better math and science teachers to the classroom. Let me tell you the sales pitch (and it is a sales pitch that I have given to several freshmen classes.)
The Step 1 and Step 2 classes are free through a tuition rebate (after you successfully pass the classes, you get your money back.)
In these classes, you will observe twice, and teach three times in upper elementary (Step 1) and middle school (Step 2) classrooms.
At the end of the year, you will have two free credits, AND you will KNOW if you have an interest in teaching. If you don’t, because whatever, you walk away and you have two credits, no money spent, and you have lost nothing but a little time.
BUT, if you think that teaching may be something you are interested in, you finish the major you are in (right now Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Mathematics, but that will expand) AND you take the NevadaTeach program classes and you will graduate in 4 years with two degrees. Your science / math degree AND the coursework necessary for a teaching license.
Yes, free credits. Two degrees, two career paths, and no extra time or money spent to earn either one.
This program sells itself. We were expected to have 30 students in the program this semester. My partner Master Teacher and I recruited 45. We are 150% over the goal for enrollment. That is exciting, motivating and all around wonderful.
Then, we actually met our students.
On the first day of class (heck the ONLY day of class so far) we asked them to write why they took the Step 1 class. Here are a few, representative samples of why they enrolled:
I want a second choice if I can’t get into med school (this came up several times.)
It seems like a fun program to be in, very excited about going into classrooms to teach an be like hands on. (again, several of this type.)
I want to have my double major through this program and I think it will offer lots of opportunity in the future. (wow, just wow.)
I want to explore teaching as an option. (no fewer than 5 people said this.)
I’m taking step 1 because I want to have the best choice that allows me to have the best option to succeed in my future career. (yes, this is the same as the last one, options, but notice the addition of choice. )
These are our students’ words. No editing. Just my comments in parenthesis. We have a motivated group of students who think teaching may be an interesting career. It is up to Megan and I to show them that it can be.
How do we do that?
One major element of our classroom and the program is that it centers around the 5E model of instruction. As we teach science or math lessons to our learners to teach to the ES or MS students, they are all 5E, inquiry based lessons. The math teachers who graduate from this program are going to have a strong basis for creating inquiry based lessons for their classrooms. This is truly exciting. I am fully committing to dispatching an illusion of learning.
What else is exciting is that this program did not exist last semester. I am part of the first year of creating the program from the ground up. If it fails, I will be a large part of why it fails. If it succeeds then I will be a part of why it succeeds (well not really, it can’t help but succeed.) But it is a risk to leave the safety of teaching, being department chair, teaching the courses I love, interacting with amazing learners and stop all of that for the complete uncertainty of a program that does not exist, in a completely different environment, and a radically different culture.
So, do I step up and leave everything I was comfortable with behind and bet it all on a new, untested, untried program to create and build new, more and better math and science teachers? Clearly the answer I chose was yes, but it was a tough decision. I miss the teachers I interacted with daily, but I know that I am doing something that will benefit more students in the future than I could just as a high school teacher.
As far as the massive culture shock, I have overcome it. Mostly. I have had a couple of “Am I on candid camera” moments. Being told “good job” for submitting $20,000 technology requests that were detailed and approved. Being told “ask for it, we don’t short change instruction, if you need it to teach, ask” by directors of the program. Coming from K-12 where we were starved for resources and now have the resources is odd.
Having to navigate the minefield of tenured professors walled gardens has been a shock. As a high school teacher, I just did things. I always could justify it because it was in the best interest of my learners, so there was never any blowback, just an “okay, that works, thank you.” Now, however, that is not always the case. And, what is in the best interest of my students is NOT the best interest of the departments students, the colleges’ students, or the University’s students. That is absolutely true. So having to think bigger picture and take a step back is new for me. Not hard. Just new.
The last thing that really is different for me is that I always sought out teachers to inspire me, to motivate me. As a high school teacher I lived by this quote daily.
My list was easy. Go on Twitter. Search for #MTBoS. Follow them. All of them. I have found so many teachers who pushed me to be better through their ideas, motivation, and inspiration that I never felt alone the last 4 years.
I am feeling alone now. I have a beautiful office. (seriously, it is the best office on campus, look at the view from my office window).
I have a fellow Master Teacher, Megan, who is amazing. I have directors in my program who are supportive, helpful and all around great people. The faculty and staff here are supportive and helpful.
And yet, I feel alone. The college culture is different than K-12. There are no faculty plays. No “Friday happy hours.” No fabulous twitter chats of supportive higher ed professors. At this level it is about what you produce, not how you feel. K12 is different. I am working over that, around that, and through that, but it is true. I think this is the largest culture shock to deal with now. I can still drop into the Friday happy hour, but I am not part of that group. Will they still have me? And what am I producing now for my new position?
Yes, I just smiled. I realized what I have to make sure I produce.
I need to be that teacher who uplifts, inspires, and drives others.
More so now than ever.