Common App Personal Essay - Prompt 3 (2016-17)
Prompt: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Throughout high school, I got along well with my teachers and got many As. But that all changed in my junior year, when I took U.S. History 2 with Mr. McLaren. He had been Teacher of the Year at River Edge. The twins down the street raved about all that they had learned from him. But there I was, two months into the school year, falling farther and farther behind. Moreover, my varsity field hockey took time away from my studies. When I did get to work on assignments, usually on Sunday afternoons, I had trouble linking the readings and writing assignments to the previous week's lectures. I lived in fear of getting called on by Mr. McLaren, dreaded tests and quizzes, and shook every time he handed back a graded assignment. I was never a quitter but didn't know what to do about the problem. I needed a good grade in U.S. History 2 on my transcript! Then I spent a holiday weekend with Kara, a friend from summer camp who attended high school in Austin. She explained an unusual approach to teaching U.S. history at her high school: the flipped classroom.
At Kara's school, the history department had started flipped learning as a test two years ago, and it became wildly popular. The teachers make videos on their computers and post them to a site; students follow a link to that site, watch the videos, and use Google Forms to submit a summary and ask questions. The next day, the teachers answer questions students have uploaded and review key points. Then the students debate about the issues in the video or work in small groups on legal cases and historical documents, applying the previous night's video lecture. According to Kara, she's never liked history more nor understood it any better!
After the weekend in Austin, I got up my nerve and went to see Mr. McLaren during my conference period. "Mr. McLaren," I told him, "I really want to be successful in your course. But I feel overwhelmed by the lectures and get lost whenever we have to analyze documents for homework. In addition, the textbook is really distracting. I just can't get a handle on it. I'm wondering if you would consider possibly using flipped learning here at Sam Houston . . .?" I felt my face burning by the time I finished my little speech!
But Mr. McLaren didn't react the way I expected him to. He didn't tell me that he'd never win Teacher of the Year again if he listened to me. He didn't seem to think that I was an idiot for struggling with the textbook. Instead, he asked me to take different notes over the next week in class, writing down his key ideas in my own words and suggesting how he could use videos to help my classmates and me learn better. He told me that he had read about flipped learning in history and science classes and was willing to give it a try?if not this year, then next year. He also asked me to check in with him at the same time every Tuesday conference period, whether or not I had questions.
As it turned out, coming to terms with my uncertainty over history and mustering the courage to speak with Mr. McLaren was a turning point in my junior year. From then on, I changed the way I took notes and sensed that Mr. McLaren, listening to my issues, offered alternative assignments. Mr. McLaren appointed me a discussion leader when we worked in small groups so history would be as second-nature to me as chemistry (or even field hockey). By year end, my transcript was where it should have been. I have to admit it; I've developed a taste for history!