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Chad Van Cleve, Teacher at Cedar Falls High School in Cedar Falls, Iowa
When returning to the United States after teaching in Europe, I filled out the online application for teachers in the state of Iowa. It was a time of economic downturn and I was worried about finding a job. To my delight, it did not take long to find employment and, in fact, having graduate work in the field of sociology prompted a school to come looking for me. The school was in dire need of someone with graduate credentials to teach a dual credit course in sociology.
The desire for dual-credit courses developed a few years before I started at Cedar Falls High School. The school wanted to provide challenging courses for students. There were some Advanced Placement (AP) courses as well as classes as the state university or the community college in our town. To attend these classes students had to leave the high school campus, which caused some students to miss more class time at the high school than many administrators thought was manageable or even appropriate. All of the AP classes were year-long and limited the options and variety of courses in which students could enroll. Teaching semester-long college courses in a dual-credit partnership with the community college at the high school turned out to be a logical solution to these problems.
Having previously taught a Foundations of Education class at a small private college, I felt comfortable with the standard of work that would be expected for this course. The instructors at the community college were supportive of this venture. To get me started, they provided me with the sociology department’s objectives for the course and a list of resources that instructors used at the community college. Student enrollment for the course is not automatic; they have to obtain a certain score on the ACT or they have to meet the reading and writing scores set by the community college on the Compass Test. Students are screened to ensure that they have the reading and writing skills needed to be successful in a college course.
One difference in teaching this college-level course as opposed to my earlier work as an adjunct professor was that I met with students every day. While meeting with students every day was a positive, many of these students were taking five or six classes as part of their normal high school curriculum. In my earlier college instruction, I gave students the syllabus with the expectation that they would have read for the two classes we had each week and my competition was three or maybe four other courses, not five or six. Many of my high school students felt overwhelmed by the work load and the (perceived) lack of time to complete the work. I worked around this by assigning smaller chunks of the chapters each day and giving students related articles and case studies each week before we discussed them so that students could better manage their time. The difficulty of being overwhelmed by so many classes still raises its head from time to time for some students but overall is no longer a problem.
Outside of the workload, the only other issue I have had with students is that when they are in dual-credit sociology they are no longer high school students, they are instead under the rules of the college. The penalties for academic dishonesty are much more severe at the college so I take note to remind all students of this difference. Furthermore, policy changes that are school wide often do not apply to the college course if the policy runs counter to the policy of the college (e.g., late work, retakes, and extra credit policies).
The experience of teaching dual-credit sociology has been quite satisfying. Student motivation to participate in class is high. I believe that much of their motivation is an interest in the subject of sociology, but I am well aware of other motivations including that the grade students receive in my course goes on a college transcript. An additional motivation encouraging students to be prepared and work hard in the course is that if a student earns a grade of a C- or higher the school will pay for the course. This is communicated to parents prior to enrollment so many parents support and push their children to put forth their best effort.
As my teaching loads have grown to a point where I primarily instruct sociology classes, I have been grateful for the opportunity to teach the dual-credit course with energized and inquiring students. I have had many students visit me and tell me how my course and other dual-credit courses have prepared them as they entered post-secondary institutions. The safety of the dual-credit option at the high school versus traveling to a strange building on a college campus has inspired students who did not think they were “college material” with the confidence to go to college and pursue a professional degree.