Friday, July 25, 2014

What's the real difference between teaching high school and college?

As many of you probably know, I taught high school for the first 3 years of my career before moving on to the collegiate level.  This summer, though, I had the opportunity to teach summer school for credit recovery students (not all were credit recovery but a large majority were).  There is a huge difference between the way you teach high schoolers and the way you teach college students, even freshman, but that's no surprise.  You don't need me to tell you that.  

However, what's truly interesting is the huge difference in the way that these students interact with you at different points in their academic careers.  You would think that only being separated by 1-2 years of age wouldn't change the way they interact with their instructors but boy does it.  So what did I learn from having sandwiched experiences in the high school and college classroom?

High schoolers are more personable.   I love my college students... don't get me wrong.  But high schoolers are more interested in having relationships with their instructors.  They want to know what's going on in your life.  They are interested in whether or not you've heard of Wiz Khalifa and are disgusted when you haven't. In general, they want to know you as a person.  

For college students, this isn't really the case.  My college kids are there to learn and that's about it.  Now, this may be because I teach a general education course - I would hope that they build more relationships with professors in their areas of academic study.  But by and large, it's come to class and book it when it's over.  I'm not sure which I prefer more. 

College students become instantly more responsible.  It has to be the fact that they know that they're in college because it has been less than a year since they were running around their high schools wearing face paint for Class Color Day.  College students truly are more responsible.  And even when they're not, they don't tell you about it.  There's no "I didn't have time for... " or "My printer wasn't working..." or even "You didn't explain it clear enough...". They own up to their mistakes and take the consequences usually without complaint.

High schoolers on the other hand, not so much.  Of course there are the good students who are way more mature than their classmates.  But I would say it was a weekly occurrence having one of those awkward conversations where excuses were made.  The framing of just being in college completely changes a student's outlook and behavior.  It's refreshing.

In general, I would rather teach college students.  Yes, I get to teach the material that I'm more interested in but I also get to interact with adult students.  I can encourage them and press them in ways that public K-12 doesn't really allow for. My experience this summer did remind me of what I love about high school students, though.  They act like real people and they treat you like a real person (however they still treat you like a loser when they see you at the local ice cream shop).  

As school time starts to creep up on us, some of us are dreading it and some of us can't wait until the first day.  Just remember that we're lucky.  Not only do we have jobs (a hot commodity nowadays), we also serve students - the future of our country.  We have the opportunity to encourage kids of all ages and teach them not just about our content but about how to be a citizen, a person, and a friend.