New Spaces and New Places

Back in my university teaching days I was about two years in and realized that I wanted something different. I had always been really intrigued by the transition from high school to college. As well, I was intrigued by this idea of the non-traditional student. I was a non-traditional student and I felt I could identify with it. 

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I kind of always knew I would teach high school until I went to college. I realized once I was there I wanted something slightly different, but could never word it or the actual reason why. I really still can't. But early colleges always were intriguing to me and this idea of the populations that feed into them. I felt a kindred connection to it. So two years ago April of 2012 I decided to apply to an a brand new developing early college. 

When I started working with my school I signed on with the purpose to hang on for two years and then my students would be ready to take English college credits. At the time we were unsure if they would be dual credit courses or straight college courses. The benefits of signing on so early and teaching freshman and sophomore were quite a few. At the time I was still a year out from my Masters degree. I was also able to be a part of this school from the ground up. As well, I could also dip my feet in actually teaching high school. I thought it would be similiar and it isn 't at all.

The students, the curriculum and the demand are SO VASTLY different. I am so grateful it worked out this way now because it prepared me to be ready to be the best early college teacher I could be. A teacher who isn't a professor, but also isn't a high school teacher. I stratgetically fit somewhere in the middle in a very unnamed space. 

When I made the leap to teach in a 9-12 setting I was given a hard time by the majority of people in the university setting. Some blatantly came out and accused me stealing their students and their jobs. Others were supportive and understood my new transition because they took the time to actually understand me.

But once in that high school setting I realized quickly I don't fit there either. Traditional high school teachers focus on hugely different classes in their own prep classes for careers. There is a lot of emphasis on methods/classroom management/processes. I found myself feeling deficient in some areas and over qualified in others. The language and conversations we had were different.

Like the university there were some who flat out gave me no respect despite my two years experience in a classroom. I had even been told, "It is great and all that you understand your content, but do you even understand how a classroom works?"  But then there were others that were amazingly supportive and offered help in what I lacked. 

But here is the deal I understand I fit no where. At first I believe it to be a very conscious unconscious choice. Does that make sense? I knew and understood the literal choice I made, but I never understood the actual reality of that decision. 

Now our first class of freshman are rounding into there junior years and their actual college English classes. A moment I have prepared for and waited for for awhile. The more I close in on the actual teaching of it and I prepare my curriculum the more the reality of it is coming to light. 

At the end of this week I was invited to my sponsoring university to meet and network with the other professors of the courses I would be teaching and possibility be at our early college. There were about 100 or so professors that came in for a meet and greet idea session and then a PhD in rhetoric and comp speaker that was meant to inspire and innovate our instruction. 

It was the first time in my professional career that I felt strangely out of place. I have been to these types of events at my previous university. They did it every fall and I knew almost everyone in the room. But I seemed or at least felt like the only person in the room that didn't know anyone else. There were the occasional stops where the person felt sorry for the person who was grossly over dressed and alone and they would stop by and introduce themselves. 

However, that inevitability lead every time to where I came from. Most of the answers when that happened were what courses they taught here on this campus or a satelite campus. But me my answer was, "I am up in Fort Wayne at our Early college." And a response not meant out of cruelty was "You are just a high school teacher?" 

At first I would thrown down my educational credentials and previous work experience at my alma mater. Then I just realized that was my own insecurity speaking. I know I had as much right to be there as they did. As well, they weren't making me feel that way. They weren't purposefully making me feel that way. I was making myself feel that way. 

I have been a 9-12 teacher for almost two years and I will go on record as saying that there is nothing that we do that is "just a high school teacher". The daily life of any teacher is something that no one on this earth could understand unless you do it. I could write a blog post about it and it would still not cover any of it. The exact same could be said for being a university professor and I cannot fully comment on that because that wasn't my title. But I don't believe it to be what the vast majority of us believe it looks like. 

In that realization, I also realized that my students are in that same battle every day. They probably want to be "just high school students" but they are in a setting that has college demands. And that is hard. I realized that our identities are being shaped right now and sometimes that is hard and difficult and makes us feel like we don't belong anywhere. But we do. We belong to one another. 

Sometimes the things that happen specifically at my school are hard to put your finger on. But they are amazing. The students are close knit kind of group. There are few discipline issues. There is so much academic and emotional support for students, parents and staff. I believe it is this idea of this new and different space that we are calling and making our own. 

Once I recognized that, I felt way less alone. My identity is an Early College teacher. I am a professor, but I am also a teacher. The more I stop trying to be one or the other and just be what I am the more I believe I can be confident in the work I am doing. This space I am creating is new. The idea and the concept is not new.The dual credit system isn't. There is a space out there for me. I just have to carve it out. 

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