Teachers adjust to change in course loads

By Rebecca Nussbaum

First quarter is when students adjust to new teachers, subjects and schedules. But the changes are not limited to students.

On the other side of the desk, many teachers are adjusting to new courses. Upper School Science Department Head Larry Axelrod teaches a period of chemistry after teaching only Adanced Placement Biology for three years. Although his dozen plus years of teaching chemistry prevented him from having to prepare much this summer, the switch still comes with its challenges, he said.

“What makes it harder for me is simply to go back, and having not looked at [the material] in three years, it’s more of a matter of timing,” Axelrod said. “Making sure I’m putting up a schedule out there that I can follow so students can complete units within the time frame they’re supposed to.”

After teaching sophomores and juniors for 14 years, English teacher Jeremy Michaelson is now teaching seniors in two AP English Literature classes. He requested the switch because he said he was ready for a change.

Unlike Axelrod, who had to do very little to prepare, Michaelson spent his summer reading the books he will teach in AP Literature.

“I’ve read all these books in the past, but some of them I haven’t read in quite a while,” he said. “Most of my summer was reading and rereading and prepping the whole darn curriculum.”

The other AP Literature teachers helped smooth Michaelson’s transition by sharing their material and notes on the books, he said.

For an English teacher, one of the biggest challenges of teaching new books is not having carefully refined lesson plans, Michaelson said.

“There’s a little extra stress that goes along with that, but then again that’s what’s exciting about it, in some way discovering the literature for the first time and getting the kind of command that one gets when one is forced to teach it,” he said.

In addition to being excited about teaching new books, Michaelson looks forward to switching age groups and teaching seniors.

“They don’t have the shyness that comes with dealing with the Upper School for the first time,” he said. “It’s a little harder to draw sophomores out of themselves. With seniors, I feel like I’m crashing their party.”

However, Michaelson anticipates teaching seniors will have its difficulties. The college process puts pressure on first quarter grades, which is at odds with English teachers’ tendency to start the year with high standards and allow students to work their way up to meet them over the year.

“If you teach seniors you have to be aware of that, and you have to figure out how you’re going to deal with that,” he said. “That’s another source of a little anxiety for me.”

Additionally, Michaelson worries about keeping the attention of notoriously disinterested second semester seniors.

“I may have to set aside something that I really want to teach because I don’t think it will be as immediately accessible or as engaging as something that I think is required at that point in the year,” he said. “I’m giving careful thought to what I’m going to teach, hoping to keep the seniors with me.”

Physics teacher Joe Dangerfield from Eton College in England traded places with physics teacher Karen Hutchinson this year, and although he taught an equivalent course to AP Physics B at Eton, there are still discrepancies between the two physics courses.

In Physics B, students come into class having already been exposed to the day’s lesson through podcasts and reading assignments, allowing most of class time to be devoted to practicing problems and clarifying concepts.

This is different from the more traditional lecture in class and practice at home style that Eton uses, Dangerfield said.

“That shift in emphasis in how the course is delivered and the expectations of what the students can achieve were quite different than the equivalent course at home,” he said.

Dangerfield started preparing to teach the course over the summer by talking to Hutchinson and exchanging tips, he said.

“I spoke to people over the summer, and I did the reading in advance, but until you get to a place and see how it all fits together, you just don’t know,” he said.

Now that the year has begun, Dangerfield has found that much of the adjustment has to be done in the classroom. He spent the first few weeks of school familiarizing himself with the new teaching culture, and although he is more comfortable now, he is still adjusting, he said.

Like Michaelson, he finds the team teaching style helpful because he gets tips from teachers who have taught the course before and are teaching the same material at the same time.

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