This week marks the beginning of the second phase of my career. After spending more than a decade at the middle school where I began teaching, I was given the opportunity to open a new kind of public school.
I’ve written before about the unique characteristics of this Leadership Academy, but those words were written in the abstract: before there was a building, a faculty, or any classes. After five days of teaching in this special place, I have discovered some important facts about myself and about teaching.
First, it’s clear that starting a new school is not an experience that you can anticipate well. The challenges I expected never materialized, while unseen details rose up from the shadows to offer some resistance. In the end, we defeated all obstacles that presented themselves, but we know that more lie ahead.
Second, in the debate surrounding single-gender education there are those who see separation of the sexes as a way to teach boys and girls differently and those who see this as sexism and reinforcement of stereotypes. What I have witnessed this week is that, while there may be real differences in the ways that boys and girls learn, in the end all middle schoolers are the same. They are precocious, impulsive, curious, socially awkward, and yet eager to please. We don’t need to customize how we teach to the needs of boys–we need to customize it to the needs of our unique students.
And, that brings me to the most important point of all. Not surprisingly, the biggest factor that has made this first week so successful for me and my students is that I have “only” 25 of them in each Science class. I have just enough to be able to see the struggles and successes of each young man. There are not too many for me to differentiate regularly. Their numbers are not sufficiently large to create behavioral, logistical, or workflow nightmares. On the contrary, my class sizes (although still above what has been scientifically proven to be most effective) are just right for creating a student-centered learning community. They are perfect for developing teamwork skills and providing small-group instruction. Classes of this size provide the interaction and diversity that students crave, yet allow me to facilitate meaningful educational experiences for each of them.
While there is still a lot of the school year left, I can rest easy this weekend. I can enjoy this short break because I walked out of my darkened classroom on Friday evening with the sense that we are on the cusp of something great for the future of education.
Or, at least for me.