On a Wednesday morning in late August, the first post in my feed read: “I refuse to acknowledge autumn.” I had just spent over fifteen hours traveling with eleven high school seniors. Weary with more than jet lag, I felt the full force of those words. I don’t want to go back to school, I thought.
I am a STEM teacher at Classical Academy Middle School (CAMS) in downtown Escondido. Two years ago, I stood in front of a group of thirty-six skeptical parents, pitching a brand new program. We’re going to teach your kids to self-direct their learning, I said. In class, we’ll apply that learning in real-world projects. Little did I know that this group of trusting parents and hesitant students would become a tight-knit family of pioneers, paving the way for our new Summit Learning Program, which now serves over 800 students ranging from seventh-twelfth grade. With such success, why was I hesitant to return?
Every educator, no matter their victories, has had a moment of doubt. In mine, I reached for a much-needed mug of coffee and happened to read the inscription: teach, inspire, motivate. In that instant, I remembered why I was excited to go back to school.
Project-Focused Learning – This year my students will engineer chemical solutions to plastic waste, create self-sustaining ecosystems, attack castles with percentages, and play baseball using probability, among other things. We’ll turn school into play with a purpose.
Mentoring for all students – As part of Summit Learning, my team and I will meet with each of our cohort students individually every two weeks, building relationships and helping them set goals to achieve their dreams. As part of The Classical Academies, I will get to know not only my students, but also their families. Working together, we will develop personalized learning plans to help each student reach success not only in school, but also in life. At the end of our two years together, we will become a family.
Productive Struggle – I love teaching in a program that helps students realize failure is not an identity, it is an opportunity to grow. Summit transforms the tightrope of self-education into a balance beam: it doesn’t prevent students from falling, but it makes their fall less detrimental, and more of a lesson to learn from. After-all, growing from failure is one of the most important skills students need to learn. As my students’ anxiety decreases, they develop grit and perseverance that will serve them long beyond my classroom.
These were the things I remembered in late August, staring at a coffee mug that represented the hearts of students I’d impacted, and who had impacted me. So administrators, homeschool parents, and principals: here’s to another year of watching students learning how to stand up for themselves; discovering they can do math; and realizing that everyone is smart, we just all approach it differently. And to my fellow teachers: may our hearts always be as full as our mugs, and our spirits as undeterred as the most determined tightrope walker.
SARAH PIERCE, Escondido