Common App Personal Essay - Prompt 5 (2016-17)
Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Tie knotted, shirt buttoned, and khakis donned, I stood in front of Ms. Rosner's Period 1 Honors Algebra II class. My mouth dried up as it sometimes does in winter. How could I feel so nervous about a subject I really enjoyed? It was Room 308. The students were my classmates. But I'd rather be taking the new SAT than working through material with sophomores at Quaker Academy.
Every spring at our high school, top students participate in the Role Reversal Challenge. On that day, select students take on the duties of their teachers, who gladly sit in class rather than stand in front of it. It was a new experience for me, a 16-year-old sophomore, and I had gloated to friends and carried on at the dinner table just two weeks before when I found out I had been selected. That changed a day later, when I received an Invite from Ms. Rosner asking me to bring along my ideas for all her classes. That meant I would teach not just my beloved Honors Algebra II but also Algebra CPA (College Prep A), Algebra CPB, and Algebraic Concepts. I would also monitor two study halls.
While homework was never an issue for me, coming up with ways to introduce equations, explain relationships between variables, and get students interested in word problems kept me up nearly all night for a week. While four of her classes were 42 minutes long, the Algebraic Concepts class was a double session and had two class aides. Each of the classes had different textbooks, some electronic and others containing suggestions for English Language Learners. Ms. Rosner explained that no teacher should go into class cold; instead, even an apprentice should have lesson plans containing specific objectives, ways to get students settled into their coursework, and relevant assignments. When I reviewed her roster, I saw the names of students I had only passed in the hallways or seen in the office, certainly not in my rather nerdy cohort of friends. How would I reach them?
When I participated in spring track a few years ago, I found it helpful to learn the race course and visualize my opponents before race day. So during my prep periods, as Ms. Rosner called them, I made lists of possible questions and answers. I met with the aides to find out the types of issues their students faced, which I learned were mostly related to language and reading. I was warned to go slowly, draw diagrams, and never talk down to the students. But when I stood in front of the class on Role Reversal Day, I felt a mix of sheer relief and utter fear.
Fortunately, I had the Honors and CPA classes in the morning, and I could handle my friends taking some cheap shots and challenging me. But after lunch, I faced a flurry of blank faces. I had to deal with, "When am I ever going to use this?" or "I don't get it." I didn't know what to say to students who had started problems but couldn't finish them or who misread word problems (or didn't read them at all). Knowing how students liked to work the smart board and write with markers, I called on them to present solutions. But by the time they had stopped playing with the materials, it seemed as if the entire period had whizzed by.
As a result of my day in front of the class, I have a newfound degree of respect for classroom teachers. I wonder how much family time they lose coming up with problems and innovative ways to get their students excited. I admire them during study hall. Through Role Reversal Day, I realize that I'm no longer a teenager who expects things done for him; rather, I'm a young adult who understands what it's like to take on responsibility and be accountable.