The MetWest High School Story (Part 3)

Here is a class I observed at the school.

From Design to Classroom:

A 27 year veteran of teaching in OUSD, Shannon Carey greets me at the door when I arrive at 8:30. She is wearing a UC Berkeley shirt (teachers that day wore clothes that advertised where they attended college) over jeans and dark ankle boots. The classroom furniture is arranged in a horseshoe with tables seating two tenth graders each facing one another across the open space in the middle of the horseshoe. There are two large couches in rear of room. The walls of the large classroom hold whiteboards in the front of the room with nearby easels showing assignments and homework.  Posters adorn other walls.

The schedule for this period is listed on the front white board:

Friday, February 1, 2019

I can reflect deeply on my strengths and weaknesses [Shannon mentions later in the lesson that this is the objective of the lesson]

8:30 Independent Reading

8:50-9:40 Non-Cognitive Variables: Self-Assessment and Interviews

Circles Today

HW [homework]

Gateway Project

–self assessment

–interview w/adult

–interview w/peer

Due Friday

As I scan the room at 8:45, everyone is reading a book or article—no devices or online reading that I see. Three students are sitting on the well-cushioned couches in the rear of the room. A sampling of what students are reading around me:

*Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

*Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

*Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods

In the open space within the horseshoe sits Shannon with her laptop. Sixteen students are there that morning. They walk in toss their cell phones in a box that Shannon holds [other teachers do the same at the beginning of class] and go immediately to their tables and take a book out of their backpack. The first half-hour is Independent Reading.

As students are reading, Shannon who is responsible for teaching English and Social Studies and managing her students’ internships while integrating both into her Advisory role in helping students become college-ready, scans classroom, walks around and checks students’ notebooks and assignments lying on table [students know this morning routine and have papers lying on tables]. She picks up and date stamps the students’ “work samples” such as “Semester Reflections” and papers from other classes at MetWest. Shannon submits these to the OUSD department of Alternative Education for certification that students are part of Independent Study schools. [i]

After a half-hour, Shannon segues to next part of lesson. She asks students to put away their readings and says: “I need everyone’s eyes on me.” She then begins a whole group discussion of handout on “Non-Cognitive Variables.” She cautions Juan to stop playing with stapler and Hunter to put away his book–he is sitting across from me and continues to read Food of the Gods.

Teacher asks: “Does anyone know a relative, adult, or friend who has gone to college?” Half of the students raise their hands. Shannon calls on students by name to tell about who they know and what they were told about college. A back-and-forth ensues between students and teacher on what they learned from those who have attended college.

Shannon then turns to “Noncognitive Variables” handout. “Does anyone know,” she asks, what “cognitive” means? A few students offer answers and teachers builds on their responses. She summarizes a definition–“mental processes”–writes it on whiteboard and asks class to write it down. Then asks a choral question: “How many of you knows someone who is school smart?’ Students call out and raise their hands. “What else do you think you need besides school smarts?” Student says: “high test scores.” Shannon replies that high scores does not mean you succeed in college.”

What unfolds is a whole-group discussion of non-cognitive variables–what teacher calls “people skills,” “soft skills,” and “social skills.” Asks class to take notes. As the teacher-led discussion proceeds with questions from the teacher and responses from different students, Shannon’s energy is obvious.

Calling it a mini-lecture, Shannon displays slides on front whiteboard of noncognitive variables listed on handout. She and class enumerate each one with teacher coaching individual students to define each one:

*Positive Self-Concept or Confidence

*Realistic Self-Appraisal

*Understands and Deals with Oppression

*Prefers Long-Range Goals To Short-Term Or Immediate Needs

*Availability of Strong Support Person

*Successful Leadership Experience

*Demonstrated Community Service

*Knowledge Acquired in A Field

Shannon asks different students to read each variable, group defines it–teacher asks students to put the variable in everyday language (“dumb it down,” she says), and then directs class to rate themselves on each variable on a four-point scale (e.g., 4= “This really, totally, positively describes me” to 1=”I do not think this describes me at all”). As the whole group discussion unfolds, the teacher constantly scans the class for students who are not attending, cautions them, and returns to Q & A of discussion.

For variable on “Oppression”, a student wearing a head scarf talks about sexism she recognizes in and out of school. Other students chime in. Shannon uses example of family discussions about immigration and fears about deportation. Teacher makes point that it is less a personal problem and more of a systemic, social problem.

Class’s progress through variables on handout halt as three students enter classroom and, with the teacher’s permission, announce a new tardy and absence policy. Also they say that they are selling cookies and candies for Valentine Day. They exit.

Shannon resumes lesson and asks individual students to read variables. For some, she offers personal examples from her life and occasional student chimes in with his or her experience. She asks Mohammed to read last variable and asks him for his “Knowledge of A Field.” She reminds him and others about internships they are involved in and their passions about cosmetic make-up, video gaming, and working with animals at a veterinarian’s office.

Now, for final part of lesson, Shannon turns to questions listed in handout such as “Which two variables do you feel you most demonstrate/ Give TWO reasons why you think this.” And “Which noncognitive variables did you score the lowest in?” As she eyes the class, she calls on Kevin to stop bothering student at his table. She asks students to read these questions and assigns class to answer them and turn in handout on Friday.

As time for session comes to a close, Shannon passes out green detention slips for being tardy and walks around checking on students’ completion of their assignments. Students begin packing up, picking up their cell phones, and wait for the buzzer to sound. Session ends at 9:40.

Descriptions of Nick’s and Shannon’s classes are ones where social studies and English—called Humanities at the school—are integrated into the counseling, mentoring, and coaching roles that teachers have at MetWest. In most high schools, teachers are subject-specialists who do perform these other roles in varying degrees before and after school (and during lunch and preparation periods).

At MetWest (as well as Social Justice Humanitas Academy), teachers are expected to perform multiple and expanded roles that wrap into one bundle of academic, emotional, psychological, and social connections with students in class, outside school, and in internships. Close relationships between teachers and students evolve and become close since Advisor/Teachers stay with the same group of students for four years. Of course, individual teachers vary in how they manage the social-emotional connections with students. Whatever the variation, at MetWest, BPL and site staff expect Advisor/Teachers to display and enact a much larger emotional and social skill repertoire than teachers in regular high schools.[ii]

Every MetWest teacher, however, is not an Advisor. There are math and science teachers who teach and do not have formal advisory duties with a group of students. At MetWest, these teachers are crucial to insuring that all students meet university and college requirements in these subject areas and perform reasonably well on state tests, their Senior Thesis Project and final Exhibition.

[i] For description of Alternative Education in OUSD and where MetWest fits, see:


[ii] Teachers managing additional roles beyond subject matter expertise is a feature of many small high schools since the mid-1990s. Higher and expanded expectations of student-teacher relationships is baked into Social Justice Humanitas Academy and MetWest as my observations and interviews documents. Also see Kate Phillippo, Advisory in Urban High Schools: A Study of Expanded Teacher Roles (New York: Palgrave, 2013).

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Filed under how teachers teach, school leaders, school reform policies

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