Can you tell us about your experience teaching at Collegiate?
Sure! I primarily teach two different AP courses: AP government and politics and AP United States History. More recently, I’ve taken over a lot of our dual-enrollment online classes through Granite State and Arizona State University. I’ve been at Friendship Collegiate for eight years. I was the lead teacher of the Early College Academy for over five years and I’ve served in a few different roles around campus. I’ve really enjoyed working with our students and I especially enjoy getting them ready for college and immersing them in college-level academics, which is the main goal of our AP courses.
I continue to evolve the courses to be more like college classes. Even if they don’t pass the AP exam at the end, students will get the benefit of experiencing college-level instruction, so that when they walk onto a college campus for the first time, they can be successful right from day 1.
Can you talk a little bit about how you specifically offer students a college-level learning experience?
I really want students to be able to experience what a college class is like. We do a lot of seminar-style classes, which is like your typical college class. They get reading assignments that they have to do on their own, and they’re expected to take strong notes on it. They’re given a series of discussion questions, so they know what to expect ahead of time. Then they come into class, and I facilitate a 60-minute discussion on the topic. We then work to make connections between the topic and what’s relevant to them.
I use accountable talk to make sure that my classroom has the same level of rigor and conversation that you would expect to find in a college classroom. Students are expected to support everything they say with actual evidence from either history or from the text they just read. They’ll tell you that if they don’t have a fact to back it up, I will say the same thing every time: “Prove it. I don’t believe you.”
I work hard to ensure that my students are able to handle a large reading workload. I give them at least a four-week calendar that outlines all of their reading and upcoming assignments so that they can prepare and know what is expected of them, just like a college syllabus. It helps them gain independence and become more responsible.
I find that students come back after they graduated and say it helped their transition into college, because they’ve experienced what college-level rigor is like, rather than heading into college and thinking that they’re going to hand out worksheets. Too many students still have the false belief that college is just an extension of high school.
They have to be able to read something for a purpose and take strong notes. In previous classes, they may have learned two-column or Cornell notes. When they come to me, I very much encourage them to take the notes that work for them. I tell them that it’s okay if I can’t read your notes, so long as you can. One day, you’re going to sit down in front of a college professor who is going to talk for 60 minutes, and you need to be able to get down as much as you can, and be able to go back and review your notes. Many of these skills our students don’t learn until college, and it’s a bit of a struggle. It’s no surprise that for many of our students, their lowest semester in college is the first one. Unless you’ve experienced it before, having siblings, or parents who walk you through what college is going to be like, it’s simply different when you step onto a college campus. I try very hard to give them as much of the college experience as I can.
I’ve had US history students come to me and say they’re taking a college US history class and “Your class is five times harder than those classes. This is a breeze now. Thank you!” That always makes me feel good, because that means that what I did was more than just instill a bunch of random dates and facts into their brain. As history teachers, we can get kind of hung up on this sometimes. The reality is, what you should be doing is giving students the capacity to think critically and question things-especially in today’s world. Understand and read the news, be media literate, and know the difference between the junk that is out there and real journalism. These are incredibly important skills in this day and age. To me, it’s much more important for students to be able to back up a claim with facts and evidence then to remember who James Madison was.
What do you like about Friendship Collegiate?
I really enjoyed that during the first handful of years that I was here, they gave me an opportunity to explore different positions-whether it be leadership or mentoring teachers-like what I do currently.
I find myself to be someone who gets bored easily. When I first started teaching, one of the things I forced myself to do was, every year, try something different-whether it be a new class, a new course, or some kind of leadership role. And Friendship really allowed me to do that while I was deciding where I wanted to settle. More than anything, I have worked with some really phenomenal people who have made my life here much easier, especially Dr. Shairzay. He’s been a mentor to me; I’ve worked hand in hand with him since the day I started here. He’s the most intelligent man I’ve ever worked with and he has nothing but your best intentions at heart. I trust his feedback; I know that if he’s telling me to implement something, he’s doing it not because he read a study about it last week. He knows it works with our scholars. That ability to have a level of trust with someone that I can work hand-in-hand with for as long as I have keeps me coming back. I know that he has our students’ education and my career here at heart.
Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you want to be sure to include in your spotlight?
I enjoy mentoring some of the new teachers. It’s a different role, it’s a different challenge, but I feel like it’s one of the ways that I can have a bigger impact on our school outside of my own classroom. About three or four years back, I got a push from our last administrator, encouraging me to become an academy director. And I really questioned whether or not I would enjoy it.
I looked into it for a while and determined that the part of the day that I like best is when I’m surrounded by these four walls, working with the kids. If I gave that part up, it sounded like something I wouldn’t want to do. I did want to make a bigger impact, though, so I became a master teacher, which allows me the opportunity to offer professional development three or four times a year with the staff here. That along with the mentoring allows me to have a larger impact, while maintaining myself as a teacher, which is my ultimate goal – to stay in the classroom.
What strategies have you found that your students really benefit from?
I am really big on routine and procedure. I like the concept of creating a classroom environment that can almost run itself. Students learn and know every little detail, from how to pass the paper, to how to enter the classroom, to where to pick up materials. Students need to be taught routines the same way they’re taught content. And then everything will go so much smoother.
If you can do that, then you’re going to reduce downtime in the classroom because each moment is so important. And it’s going to help with classroom management because if they know what to do, they know what the expectations are. The likelihood of any misbehavior goes down drastically. I’ve been doing professional development sessions on routines and procedures based on Harry Wong’s book “The First Day of School” for a long time.
I’ve also been offering professional development on effective questioning techniques for awhile now. I’m very big on checking for comprehension, cold-call techniques, and strategies that engage students no matter what content is being taught. I can’t help somebody set up a lab or physics class. But I can help teachers structure their daily schedule and maximize time in that class.
Are there any fun facts that you would like to share that your colleagues might not know about you?
I have five animals at home! Three German Shepherds and two Siamese cats. My wife and I are really, really big German Shepherd people. We even volunteer at the German Shepherd rescue every weekend. Needless to say, my household is pretty wild with the number of animals running around