Teaching: Grad School vs. High School

photo-4A common question I’ve been asked this summer is, “What’s teaching graduate courses like compared to teaching high school?” As a summer adjunct giving this a whirl for the first time, I don’t have much to go off, but some definite differences have stood out so far. Here’s my Top Ten thus far:

Top Ten Differences between Teaching Grad School and High School:

1. Less classroom management: Pencils have not been thrown, fights have not broken out, and I’ve not yet been interrupted by an across-the-room burst of “You did NOT just instagram that, you (expletive deleted).” This is by far the biggest overall relief difference.

2. More individual management: At any hour, I’m answering emails about assignments, giving one-on-one advice, or fielding requests for deadline extensions – high schoolers were generally done associating with me after the bell.

3. Tech still present, but I mind less: C’mon guys. High schoolers at least tried to hide their in-class texting & Facebooking. Admittedly, I may have done this myself as a grad student, and as an instructor, I’m not offended by the occasional text/Facebook check – if kept in check. Besides, as much as we, as teachers, berate students for under-the-desk texting, let’s not pretend we won’t do the same thing later at a faculty meeting.

4. Less automatic credibility: Usually, K12 students will assume you know what you’re talking about (until proven otherwise) simply because you’re the teacher. Of course, they may not respect you, but they’ll assume you can do math better than they can. For a grad class, I find myself doing extra research on topics I’m less familiar with just in case questions come up. Call it adjunct insecurity, but while I had no qualms answering a high schooler’s obscure question by pulling up Wikipedia, I worry this would qualify as scoffworthy in a grad class.

5. Relationships are harder to build: We see our K-12 students nearly every day for 9-10 months; I see my grad class once a week for 6 weeks. Many of us go into teaching for the rewarding relationships we can build with students, and this just doesn’t happen as naturally with an older crowd who return to their “real lives” after class.

6. Higher Dunning-Kruger Effect incidence: I didn’t know this had a name, but YES.

7. I’m just as busy (but can decide when to be): I’m still running around like the proverbial headless chicken, but aside from the scheduled hours of class, I can plan, correct, and correspond on my own schedule. This can, however, be a double-edged sword: Teachers as a whole have a tendency to work around the clock unless there’s a meteor strike (and even then….), but while teaching high school, I had a clearer demarcation of what my “work hours” were. I mean, there was literally a bell (Yaba-daba-Dooooo!). Not that ANY TEACHER ON THE PLANET stops working after that bell, but we at least know that we SHOULD.

8. I can cancel class: It’s no understatement that this blew my mind the first time it happened. Rather than constantly refreshing my browser waiting for a superintendent to announce a snow day, I can make the call on my own (such POWER). I’m assuming I would be quickly thrown to the curb should I abuse this discretion, but just knowing it’s there is astonishing.

9. I miss the occasional student shenanigans: There. I said it. (My work stories aren’t NEARLY as entertaining nowadays.)

10. Autonomy: I don’t get “observed” in the traditional “principal sits in on the class” sense of the word. This, again, has a  double edge: As a new instructor, I would actually appreciate veteran feedback. Plus, this means my teaching ability is almost exclusively measured by student word-of-mouth and end of course surveys. Fingers crossed!

So there you have it. As I said, I’m just getting my feet wet in this experience, so I’m sure more differences will unearth with time, but this is what’s jumped out so far.

Any more I should add?

~C.B.

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