At This Summer School, Teachers Learn Too

At Brown University, where Theodore R. Sizer founded the Coalition and where he is now Professor Emeritus, the department of education has for 32 years sponsored a laboratory summer high school that benefits teachers and schools as much as it does students.

About 350 students from Providence, Rhode Island and the surrounding area come to the four-week day school, paying a $75 fee if they can afford it. Their faculty consists of teams of teacher education students from Brown, and their courses center around classic Coalition-style “essential questions” (like “How do our genes make us human?” or “What’s really fair, and who decides?”). For four hours every morning, students in ungraded groups with widely varying backgrounds take on the same demanding work in biology, English, social studies, and the arts.

For the beginning teachers, the experience is equally intensive. Supervised both by Brown education professors and by exemplary mentor teachers from local schools, the newcomers to the profession receive continual coaching. In debriefing sessions after each morning’s classes, teams get the veterans’ help on everything from instructional strategies to classroom management, then plan the next day’s lessons. “It’s a crucible where you find out if you want to be a teacher,” said one Brown student after his summer’s immersion. “If you don’t, you’ll figure it out fast.”

Providence teachers who take part in Brown Summer High School say it is an exceptional form of professional development and university partnership. In a new arrangement in summer 2000, six teachers from the city’s Classical High School brought in 100 rising ninth graders they had identified as needing help with the transition to their school’s demanding academic work. After several workshops with Brown faculty, the teaching team taught their own group for one of the morning’s two-hour courses, then turned the students over to the novice teachers for the second.

Occasionally a Providence student who enrolled in the summer program during high school comes back to it as a Brown student who wants to be a teacher. “It gave me hope,” one such student said. In this time of teacher shortage, it may give her profession hope, too.