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After spending four years teaching at the college, I went with my gut and made a return to the high school Language Arts classroom. With 100 days left in this academic year, I’ve made some observations:

Nothing on Earth matches the college professor’s lunchtime

My 25-minute lunchtime now consists of shooing 14-year-olds out of my room (of course, I had to teach a freshman class during my lunch block) and sprinting downstairs to the faculty microwave before other starving teachers, aides, and counselors call dibs. It resembles the Hunger Games bloodbath cornucopia scene:

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Or, in the more common scenario, I speed to the nearest Subway and slaughter my meal in 5 minutes or less.

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Contrast this with my lunch time last year at the college. Perhaps, at 11:30, after a 15-minute diversion to Facebook, I stepped out for a quick bite. Should I drive across town to my favorite wrap dive? Mingle with the pizzeria regulars? The food court at the mall (because why NOT do a little shopping)? Before I knew it, it was often 1:30 by the time I stepped foot back on campus. A 10-minute bathroom break. 15 more minutes of Facebook. Whew. I might need to call this a day.

And so I usually did.

Freshman Composition at the college is really just 13th grade

I get this question from my high school colleagues: “So do you miss the college?” Why would I? My high school students are oftentimes unintentionally ignorant — almost adorable really. My college students (whom I still teach online this year), are also oftentimes unintentionally ignorant — not at all adorable. When a 4-year-old tries to warm up a marshmallow on a stove’s flame and gets burned, it is tragic, sweet, heart-wrenching, a teachable moment. When a 12-year-old does that, he’s an idiot.

And that’s the difference. Same excuses. Same deficiencies in writing (almost worse at the college, if you can believe it). Same resistance to reading. Inability to self-regulate. At the high school, I work with them and try to identify the problem. At the college, it pisses me off and makes me wonder why the hell they didn’t stay awake in high school.

It is obvious that an education degree is meaningful, except when you teach at the college

I sat in a professional development meeting at the college and listened to an administrator in charge of something useless show us how to use something called a “rubric” to assess student learning. Many in the room looked like this:

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Those of us who had spent at least a year teaching high school looked like this:

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OMFG. A rubric? Wow! Be still my beating heart. And no. This was not in 1965. This was three years ago. I learned within months of working at the college that higher education remains buried in some inescapable tomb when it comes to assessing students. The young ones understand the importance. But the older ones with the elbow patches say, “don’t tread on me” and to get the hell out of their classrooms.

On the flip side, we at the high school say that we assess. And we do. But then we don’t know what the hell to do with the data. So we make more tests. With more data. We stare at the data.

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And then we publish this data in order to pretend that we’re doing something meaningful with it. Some day I’ll devote an entire blog to this.

I applied for a full-time college position because, in case you didn’t know, nearly 80% of the faculty are “contingent” or “adjunct” or whatever stupid ass euphemism they want to use. “Yay! Apply for this job, Paul! You’re so qualified! Your evaluations are fantastic! Oh, but wait; you have a bachelor’s in English education, a master’s in English curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate in education? Sorry, sir. You are grossly unqualified to teach English for us. Please leave.” Apparently, being qualified to know how to TEACH English is frowned upon. Only English degrees (without the education attached) deem someone qualified. Because, yeah, THAT’S a degree students are busting colleges down to earn.

I just chuckle when high school teachers think they are not valued. Trust me. Once they dive into the cesspool of adjunct teaching for a while, they’ll change their minds.

Both are on a mission to improve student achievement

I consider the high school the “front lines” of the war on education. College is still at war, but it’s the “Al Gore as a reporter in Vietnam for four months” version of the war. Yeah, you’re doing a noble thing, but you’re not going to get bloodied up. For college professors, the worst thing that will happen to them is a negative anonymous review on ratemyprofessor.com.

At the college, I dealt with fighting over a computer space (since adjuncts share a bunker), whether someone would stick a sign outside my room when I decided to stay home, and making my syllabus lock-tight so that admin would support me. I was often invited to attend professional development (on my own schedule and preferences), and it always included brownies or goodies of some kind. And when a student failed my class, it’s because he earned that F (I miss that so much).

At the high school, students sludge their way in the room with every diagnosis known to modern medicine. Yes, teachers have a syllabus, but how parents, counselors, or administrators “feel” about an issue trumps that syllabus. There are bells. Schedules. Assemblies. Required gradebook updates. Forced professional development, usually by folks who could learn a thing or two from the folks they’re preaching to. Fire drills. Lock downs. IEP meetings. PLC meetings. <Insert acronym here> meetings. And filling out sub plans is totally not worth the absence.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the utter hilarity of working with students. The systems that surround education often muddy it to a fault. But the students and their quirks make it less of a farce and more of a mission. For me, it has always been about the students. Teaching at the college, I worked with students a couple of times a week for 16 weeks. Then they disappeared. At the college, I work with them for 9 months. Then I see them throughout the rest of their high school careers, perhaps even again in my classroom. I see them at school events, with their friends, with their parents, in the community, on the cross country course — the relationship doesn’t end after a 75-minute block of time each day. That’s what I missed in those four years. And that’s why I returned.

Of course, the $15,000 pay raise, with benefits didn’t hurt either.

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