Higher Ed vs. K-12

Over the last year, I’ve been quietly observing some of the differences and similarities between life in the K-12 world and life in higher ed.  I wasn’t a faculty member in higher ed, so my view may be skewed by that a little.  I do know what being a faculty member is like, of course.  Here, then, are my observations:

1. The kids are younger, but in some ways not that different.  I don’t see a huge difference between a high school senior and a college freshman.  The younger you go, the more differences there are, but I’ve found that treating them all with respect (and expecting respect in return) works regardless of the age.

2. You know the parents.  I met one or two parents in my days of college teaching.  Once, it was an angry parent.  Most of the time, it’s a brief encounter during graduation or visiting day.  Here, there are many opportunities to see them in a variety of contexts.  I find this really interesting.  It’s often a great insight into a kid to meet their parents.

3. The community is more cohesive and more consistent.  I see most of these kids every single day.  I will see them next year.  I will see many of them for the next 5 or 6 years.  There’s no having a kid in a class and never seeing them again.  Even if they don’t have class with you, you see them in a bunch of other contexts.

4. Summers “really” off.  Granted, I signed up for extra work this year, but I can see that summer can really be down time.

5. Your day is completely filled.  I worked from 9-5, but that time was spent in a variety of ways, often without my needing to be anywhere at any particular time.  In K-12, you’re in class most of the day, with very little time in-between.  Planning time gets filled quickly, either with actual planning or meetings.   College classes, by contrast, may only meet twice a week.  And many faculty routinely only show up for their classes, choosing to do other work at home or elsewhere.  That’s not really possible in K-12.

6. Your day does sometimes end at the end of the school day.  Which is a lovely thing.  Getting home before everyone else is fab.  But it happens less often than you might think.  Many, many days go on until 4 or 5 or even longer.

7.  Even if you go home at 3:30, you might have to come back at 7 for an event of some kind.  That happens in higher ed, too, but often it’s by choice.  For K-12, it’s sometimes an obligation.  I actually like going to these events.  It gives me a different perspective on the students and the school.

8. Everyone cares about teaching.  Nuff said.

Feel free to add your own, whether you’ve made the switch or not.

3 Replies to “Higher Ed vs. K-12”

  1. As one who teaches in the youngest of grades and is married to a college professor I found this list fascinating. The time thing (#5, 6, & 7) seem huge to me. My husband used to (he has learned) complain sometimes about the food in the faculty lounge. I would usually blow my top griping that I eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich alone in my room getting ready for the rest of the day in the 20 minutes I have while he spends an hour eating with his colleagues and friends! The go, go, go of K-12 is something I think is not well understood.

    That said, I love the ability to leave by 3:30 or 4. I love that my husband has that flexibility too. Of course, we’re both back at work at 8 pm when the girls have gone to bed.

    Sometimes I envy my husband’s relationships with his students and former students. It’s rare that I know what happens to my students beyond fifth grade.

  2. The elementary grades are particularly grueling. There are days when I have an hour for lunch–even if it’s just eating in the cafeteria. I also will get to see what happens to my students. It’s too bad you don’t. Seeing what’s become of them is really rewarding.

  3. Love your list, and (as I’ve said several times before, I know), I’m so glad that the HS adventure is working out well for you! The #3 issue matters more and more to me with each year that passes, probably because there are seniors graduating this year whom I’ve now known for several years (and this will be even more the case in future years now that I’m teaching 9th graders). And maybe #3 strikes us both more because we’re in small, independent schools; there’s perhaps less of an intimate community feel in a larger school. I was joking around yesterday afternoon with a junior whom I’ve never taught or worked with in any formal way, but we’ve known and liked each other for three years now — priceless.

    Here’s the funny thing about #8: I love working with colleagues who genuinely love teaching, love the students, love what we all do. But it does make me less special than I was as a college professor (when I was unusual in my department for being engaging and dynamic in the classroom), which was something of an adjustment! Now I’m just one of the vast majority of good teachers at the school — certainly well-liked by the students, but far less cool than some of my colleagues. Ah well — I’m happy to make that trade-off!

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