So I did my first student teaching at a small all boys charter school, in their second year, whereas right now I’m doing my 8 week placement at a big co-ed public high school. Needless to say, they are slightly different. I have to preference this blog with the clarification that had I been in a different classroom in either one of these schools I may have had a completely different experience. Each classroom builds it own culture, and my perspective on the school is absolutely shaped by the culture of the classroom that I am in for each of these placements. Having said that I think there are still some generalizations that can be from being in each of these schools. After all, each has a school culture that is a result of its demographics, size, location, public/private/charter designation, administration, etc.
So my experience in my first placement has been radically different. First, let’s take a look at the teachers. The vast majority of the teachers at my first placement at the charter school were in their 20s and 30s. Contrast this to my current high school placement and the majority of the science teachers are in their late 30s and 40s. Why? Well if you haven’t heard jobs ain’t easy to come by in Rochacha and Charters tend to snag those who don’t have any other options (read: job). It’s not always the case. Some are asked to come from surrounding schools. But there’s a reason everyone there is so young. I think that it has several effects as well. For starters, there’s a much different attitude that younger teachers at my first placement had, an optimism and energy if you will. Frankly, in my new placement I don’t see it. Again, to clarify my current CT is probably the most energetic and knowledge teacher I’ve ever worked with. But the overall feeling I get from the teachers of the school is one that makes me hesitant to be a part of a culture like that. They’ve been beaten down with new requirements to such a degree that they’re frustrated and angry. And it shows.
Also, I found an enormous difference between the testing requirements of a charter school in comparison to those in the public high school setting. Twice so far this year there have been “benchmark” testing days in which the students have been pulled from all of their classes throughout the day and forced to take tests that are (I think) intended to inform future instruction after their tests are “analyzed”. It’s these kind of things that make me hesitant to be a part of a school that is so beholden to test scores. While I have no inherent issue with charter schools (which is a change from the position that I used to take), I am in complete disagreement with this strategy. Because, to be frank, if you truly believed in your teachers and thought their instruction was high-quality and they were doing a great job, would you need to give these? Would you take a week out from actual instruction to do this? No. I don’t think you would.
Of course there are differences with having girls in the classroom now too. I think a lot of times they bring an energy and enthusiasm to the classroom that boys, in many cases, need girls to have. I had a really interesting conversation once with someone about the dynamics of a classroom with only boys, and how often if there were just a few girls mixed in they would be able to convince the guys in the class to be more participatory. It’s my theory that the reason for this is because in schools with a dominant black or latino culture, adolescent males are less able (or allowed?) to have both their educational identity and an identity that conforms to a black/latino culture. Females, on the other hand aren’t forced to choose as completely, and have been more able to negotiate these two identities into one than males have. I’m open to suggestions on this.
On the other hand, I always felt that when I planned lessons for the all boys class it was easier to find a hook- because it was more likely that all of them would be interested in one idea, topic, video, article, etc. A more homogeneous group is easier to plan for.
Lastly, the age difference is huge. The 9th graders are unfortunately on the whole more disillusioned with school, and have a distinct sense of carelessness ( in the “I could care less” sense) when it comes to their education. Kids at the charter school have someone at home who cared enough about their education to send them to a school that they think will result in their child being educated better. They put on a tie to come to school. I think just because of these factors students have more buy-in and investment. Let’s not get crazy- investment for a 7th grader might not be what you think it should be. But I think the age, and going to a public school, combines to give a lot of the students in my new placement an aloofness that should alarm us…