What does life after the Brittain Fellowship look like? What opportunities within academia or in other sectors do Brittain Fellows pursue? And how does the postdoc prepare Brittain Fellows for these positions? The Professional Development Committee reached out to former Brittain Fellows and other experts to find out the answers to these and other related questions. The interview below — with John Harkey, a teacher at Brookstone School in Columbus, GA, and a former Brittain Fellow — is the fifth in this series. (Other interviews feature Rebecca Weaver, Brandy Simula, Andrea Krafft, and Emily Kane.)
In the following video, Dr. Rachel Dean-Ruzicka asks Dr. Harkey about transferring his experience as a Brittain Fellow to teaching in a private high school.
The following “highlights” summarize the key points Dr. Harkey makes in the interview.
What was your path to high school teaching?
Dr. Harkey notes that teaching high school has always been on his career radar. At the end of his second year as a Brittain Fellow, he began to pursue secondary school teaching through the Southern Teachers Agency, a placement agency that helps recruit private school teachers. The agency works on behalf of applicants to find job opportunities, and their services are free of charge to the job seeker. Through working with the agency, Dr. Harkey was able to find his position at Brookstone.
What are some differences between teaching at the high school and college levels?
While college teachers might see their students two or three times a week, Dr. Harkey sees his every day for a year. “You really get to know them; they get to know you,” he said. “That provides a lot of opportunity to teach them in ways that when you only see students three times a week per semester is just different; you’re somewhat more limited.” But he says that such consistency can bring both physical and mental challenges.
He’s taught a range of student levels, but he is working this year with seniors. Even though he can teach up to five classes at a time, the class sizes are smaller than he experienced as a Brittain Fellow. In fact, Dr. Harkey says that even with five classes he typically has about 65 students total. Additionally, while each class session of a college class can cover significant ground, in a high school class, sessions are scaled down. There might be time to work on assignments one day or group work another day, with activities spread out more across the week.
What skills did you develop as a Brittain Fellow that were helpful in teaching high school?
The experience of teaching a large number of students is especially useful. Additionally, the Fellowship’s emphasis on multimodality and technology translates well to the high school classroom and is also useful on the job market for high school jobs. Additionally, through their work balancing teaching, research, and service, Brittain Fellows learn how to budget their time and their resources, which can help with the many tasks that a high school teacher needs to do, such as coaching, committees, and working with students on extracurricular projects.