College Preparatory Is Not the Equivalent of College

Dear Reader,

It’s been awhile, I know.  I feel like after such a lengthy absence I should have something really earth-shattering and mind-blowing to say, but all I have is this: students in a college preparatory school are not in college.  Obvious, right?  Perhaps not so much.

I think a lot of us who teach in private schools that market themselves as college preparatory and send their students off to some really competitive universities sometimes forget this relatively simple and obvious fact.  I include myself in this category, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it.  It took hearing someone else that I know who also teaches in a private high school describing her views of what it meant to teach in a college preparatory private school to really bring this home for me.  I mean no disrespect to this person at all, but I do strongly disagree with her teaching philosophy and classroom practices.  I’ll explain.

She believes that because she teaches in a school labeled “college preparatory” that she should teach and treat her high school students as much like college students as possible. To that end, she structures her entire high school class like a college class with essentially 2 major tests a term, maybe one or two other assignments, and lots of lecture.  She does not really believe in formative assessment or cross-curriculum skill development. Reading comprehension?  No, college professors don’t teach that.  The basics of good writing?  No, they should already know how to write by college.  In her mind, she is preparing them for college by teaching them as if they are in college.  I suspect that many a college professor would prefer that the students who come to them have a different kind of preparation.

I, too, have been guilty of mistakenly equating college preparatory with college from time to time, although never to the extreme that I just described.  I have said to my students on more than one occasion something along the lines of, “Well, in college, your professors will never do X, so I don’t do X either.”  Now, I’m not saying it’s never right to say this.  It all depends on what X is, after all.  The more I reflect on this issue, however, the more I think the less this is said the better.  I think the better response is, “College professors will never do X, so I’m going to teach you how to do X on your own.”  That’s, you know, preparation.  Nothing earth-shattering, nothing mind-blowing…just preparation.