High-needs schools are characterized by a large number of unfilled teacher positions, a high percentage of out-of-field teachers, a high percentage of teachers who are not certified/licensed, or location in an area where students come from families who are below the national poverty line.
As I prepare for a career in education, I find myself considering the prospect of working in a “high-needs school” and what characteristics it will take to have an impact in such an environment. Though the demands of teaching in a high-needs school can be intimidating, I am confident that I possess the creativity, enthusiasm, and organizational skills to be successful.
A creative and innovative approach to teaching can be useful in a high-needs school, where funds are often tight and resources limited. In my experience, creativity means demonstrating key scientific principles using easy-to-access, household items. For instance, I once worked with a group of middle school students to observe the effects of surface tension and hydrophobicity using only a bowl of water, pepper, and dish soap. I have also presented the Law of Conservation of Mass to a classroom of my peers by simply weighing a cookie before and after it was crumbled (read more about that demonstration here). These sort of hands-on activities play a vital role in chemical education. As a scientist and future educator in the sciences, I am always searching for new, inexpensive ways to make real-life connections to any lesson.
Even the best lessons and experiments can be made better when they are enthusiastically delivered. High-needs schools are home to children from various walks of life, some of whom may have familial, social or economic problems that can deter them from their studies or make them feel that education is unimportant. In order to keep students engaged with the lesson, the instructor should maintain a high level of energy in the classroom. I believe that, my passion for science is apparent and even contagious when I discuss or explain a topic in chemistry. As a teacher, my attitude and behavior will set a tone for the class period, as well as an example for students to follow. By remaining active throughout the lesson, I am able to share my enthusiasm for the subject and make it so that even the easily distracted students stay involved.
Finally, I am organized and have the ability to use my skills effectively while teaching. By defining student expectations and establishing classroom routines early on, I will provide students with a structured learning environment. I believe that such order and consistency can make a big difference in the learning process, especially in high-needs schools where teachers are often being replaced, causing student performance to suffer. Order and predictability counter that fluctuation and build a relationship with students centered on trust.
Overall, my creativity, enthusiasm, and organizational skills are strong attributes that I am sure will translate into a successful teaching experience in a high-needs school.
While such a position is sure to be demanding work, I expect that it will be just as rewarding, and I look forward to continuing my development of positive characteristics along the way.