I have often thought that having taught at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels has meant something. That it is some sort of an advantage towards something, or a privilege of sorts, or different perspectives, or just anything. I am not sure what it does for my teaching anymore. Based on previous experience I know K-12 school districts do not put much value in my eight years of post-secondary teaching experience. Based on my experiences teaching at the postsecondary level I would say that not many at the post-secondary level care that I have experience teaching K-12. So what does all this teaching experience mean?
For it not to mean much of anything, I am often asked to compare the two. I am unsure if I am qualified to compare teaching at the K-12 grade levels, because I do not really teach. I only substitute teach, which is far from teaching. The students I have taught and currently teach at the University of Nebraska at Omaha the past two years are not much different from high school students, after all, they are only one or two years removed from graduating high school. Consequently, I am uncertain if there is any difference. If I must compare the two, I will try. Two differences that stand out are classroom management and No Child Left Behind (NCLB). I think students know to a point what the expectation level is when they walk into a college classroom. Students know this isn’t their high school classroom. I think this happens in part because parents have conversations with their children about college and secondly, students are not usually taking the same classes as their high school friends and many high school students do not always attend the same post-secondary schools. I say, “To a point” because although younger students may know how to act in a college classroom does not mean that it equates to doing the work.
NCLB does not follow the student from high school to college, nor do the calls home to parents. College students can and are left behind, but “left behind” happens by their own choices. I have this discussion about expectations at the beginning of each semester. It usually goes something like this:
“You’re adults now. You are paying tuition to take this class; therefore, this is your class. I am here to help you be successful, if you want the help. The responsibility of coming to class, following the syllabus, communicating with me, and communicating with your classmates is your responsibility. I cannot help you if you cannot manage these expectations of yourself. I will not be calling you, nor emailing you, nor calling your parents if you do not come to class or complete your assignments. This is your responsibility, and privacy laws prohibit me from speaking to anyone but you regarding your performance in this class. I will do all I can to help you pass this class, but I cannot help you if you’re unwilling to meet me halfway.”
This approach may come across as being hard-nosed, but I think it is important for students to know that there education is on them. I will also add that along with this conversation and conversations that follow throughout the semester are discussions also include the resources available to them on campus, such as the Writing Center. Having this conversation does not seem to deter students from dropping my classes. At least to date I have not seen a windfall of withdrawals. I think students appreciate that I am up front and see my as approachable and available to them when they need help.