The very first time I spoke to my friend-turned-boss Eric about the possibility of teaching at Research Triangle High School, he was quick to point something out.
“We’ll only have freshmen the first year, so no U.S. History or AP. But in a couple of years…”
Anyone who knows me knows that my passion in teaching truly lies in American history. I especially love teaching AP U.S. History. I love it enough, in fact, to go grade essays eight hours a day for seven days every June. So the thought of having to wait until 2014-15 to teach it at my new job was a bit of a bummer, but since the rest of the gig seemed so awesome, it was far from being a deal-breaker.
As I’ve previously shared in this space, since we only have freshmen, every student at the school is taking World Civilizations, a very broad overview of the scope of global history from ancient times to the present. As we’ve gotten further along in the course (we’re currently wrapping up the Middle Ages), I’ve come to enjoy it a little bit more; for the most part, though, I care very little for the content of the course. Teaching ninth graders is also not historically my forte, but as with teaching the course, I think I’m probably getting better at it.
Still, I missed teaching AP. I miss the more in-depth discussions, the writing, the rigor of it. Then one day while working at my desk after school, I overheard Lara Pacifici, our lead biology teacher, talking to another colleague about setting up some of her brightest students to work on AP Biology as an independent study.
I sat there for a second, dumbfounded. How did I not think of that? At Robinson, we had a few students over the years study on their own for AP World History, and they always talked about how easy it was and they usually scored well. The thought that I could do that at RTHS, for whatever reason, had never even crossed my mind. I had also begun to notice a core of strong students who were quite obviously bored and not being challenged in our mixed-level, differentiated classrooms, try as we might. An opportunity to give them some AP-level coursework might be good for all parties involved!
That night, emboldened, I went to the bookstore and grabbed one of those test prep books – most people get them for the GRE or LSAT or ACT or whatever, but they also exist for every AP course – for AP World History. I got home and leafed through it, and decided that it was totally doable for some of our top students. I then went through my class rosters and decided who I thought had demonstrated the necessary chops to potentially pull this thing off – out of 105 students I teach, I emailed about 15 – and decided to talk up the possibility to them. A few students came to me after that and asked to be included.
So yesterday, after setting up a Moodle page for the AP stuff and giving the kids some of our famous flipped videos to watch in advance, we had our first meeting with 14 students. We’re only going to meet for about an hour once a week until after spring break, when we’ll increase two two days a week (the exam is May 16). The good news is that I apparently covered the right stuff in our regular World Civ class, because yesterday all we had to do was review the ancient civilizations and societies, going into a little more detail on each one. The way we did it, though, was so refreshing for me. I divided up the kids into groups of 2 or 3, assigned each of them one of six ancient civilizations that the College Board says that AP World History students should be expected to know, and set them loose on a Google Docs presentation to create one slide each about their assigned civilization. And they actually got into it! They started adding tidbits of knowledge that weren’t really required, they added pictures, they explained their slides to the class afterwards without just reading their stuff verbatim, and at the end of the hour, they had a wonderful presentation that they can use to review this stuff before the test.
Eric and I have often mused during conversations in his office about missing “the nerds”; we’re both former AP teachers and quiz bowl coaches, after all. It’s been probably the hardest part of adjusting to the new job – not having the older kids around that you can joke with and have adult-like conversations. But yesterday was a small taste of it for me, and I think it’s going to be mutually beneficial. The students get the opportunity to be pushed and possibly earn some college credit, and I get to teach some high-level stuff and be intellectually stimulated myself.