January 23, 2020

When teachers become students

Natalie Eastwood

  • Student at APSI

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are challenging not just for students but for their high school teachers, too, which is why Goucher College’s Welch Center for Graduate and Professional Studies offers the AP Summer Institute (APSI). This five-day program, endorsed by the College Board, is for high school teachers who want to improve their teaching of AP classes, which highlight specific subjects in math, science, history, English, music, world languages, and others. Students score one to five on the AP exam and can earn college credit, helping them prepare for college and graduate early.

Twenty years ago, Goucher College was one of the first colleges to host AP training courses as part of the College Board’s program, says Shelley Johnson, APSI director. In those first few years, Goucher offered just a few AP courses and attracted fewer than 100 teachers. In most recent years, Johnson says Goucher’s APSI has grown to offer 34 AP courses and draws more than 700 teachers annually.

For the first time, Goucher will be offering eight pre-AP courses to prepare teachers to get their ninth-grade students ready for AP classes. Additionally, four years ago, the College Board chose Goucher—one of 10 colleges in the country—to pilot the AP Capstone course. The AP Capstone requires high schoolers to take two courses based in research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, writing, and presenting. Teachers come from all over the world and the U.S. to attend their own preparatory AP Capstone course at Goucher, Johnson says.

“The APSI instructors, who are endorsed by the College Board as experts, have read the exams, they know what to look for, and they know what the College Board does to score the AP tests,” Johnson says. “And so, APSI provides insight that a teacher in the classroom might not have.”

Heather Wooldridge, Ph.D., the coordinator of college and career readiness for Baltimore County Public Schools, supports AP teachers in Baltimore County, and often sends them to Goucher’s APSI for professional development. The APSI fulfills the requirement of 30 professional development hours and also allows teacher-students to complete additional assignments that transfer into graduate school credits, which is unique to Goucher, Johnson adds.

As someone who has gone through Goucher’s program, first as an English teacher and later as a district administrator, Wooldridge says, “I have been absolutely, positively floored by how amazing the Summer Institute is.”

The College Board offers a framework for AP teachers, but it doesn’t provide a curriculum, so AP teachers have to create their lessons and determine the pace for the course material, Wooldridge says. As a result, “an AP teacher is like a college professor, and these students are taking a college-level class. There’s a lot of freedom with that but also a lot of responsibility. It’s not to be entered into lightly, and I think you really need to have a passion for the content,” she says.

Goucher’s APSI instructors help high school teachers reach this academic caliber. “They really ‘backward map’ the process to help teachers understand the scoring process,” Wooldridge says, referring to a teaching method. “Then they give real-world lessons to dissect the material and provide strategies for creating similar lessons to support the kids. The AP Summer Institute does a beautiful job scaffolding the learning for the teachers who then translate the information for their students.”

What Johnson hears over and over from those who have gone through APSI is that Goucher’s staff are unbelievably welcoming and helpful, the campus is beautiful, the food at Mary Fisher is delicious, and the program itself runs smoothly.“

It’s just amazing to see the learning community of all these teachers, because in their own schools, they’re probably the only ones who teach AP World History,” Johnson says. “But when they come to Goucher, they’re in a classroom of teachers who teach AP World History, with an expert instructor, and that really captures the essence of this feeling that everyone is there for the right reasons—learning ways to best help their high school students.”