Teaching Doctors at Hart

January 6, 2016

(Photo courtesy of Nicole McGill)

This piece was written by Nicole McGill, a Science Secondary Educator and Drama-in-Education Curriculum Specialist at Hart Middle School, a DC Public School in Southeast DC. Nicole is a 2015 Teacher Leader in SCALE: Science Curriculum Advancement through Literacy Enhancement, an Inspired Teaching and DCPS partnership. Nicole is also a theater director and playwright, and her new play Life After Death: Stories of those who Survived Grief opens January 16th.

This year, my colleagues and I re-titled our Life Science course as “Medical School.” The science curriculum we teach has not changed, but the way we teach has.

We refer to our students as doctors, and we strongly encourage them to respect one another by doing the same. Being treated as doctors allows our students to explore their true potential. Every class conversation, discussion, lesson we have is connected to problems doctors discuss and solve. Can changing our diet prevent diabetes? What symptoms can we detect early to help save our kidneys and pancreas from further harm? The students then use what they learn to propose solutions.

Most of our students, attending a Ward 8 school, don’t get the same opportunities as other students in the district. Many students can’t afford Internet in their homes, winter coats, or a regular haircut. Calling them “doctors” may seem like a small change, but it gives students the investment needed to push them to higher goals and to achieve in ways they have never imagined. By giving our students the basics of what medical students and future doctors would know, we empower students to apply their knowledge to current situations, problems, and personal experiences in the real world.

As a SCALE Teacher Leader, I’ve adopted Inspired Teaching’s 4 I’s – Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity – into my instruction. Because of my performing arts background, I’ve always put Drama into my educational practices, and the SCALE program has given me the power to fully embrace who I am as a teacher and how I believe I should teach.

In Medical School, our students are assessed three dimensionally; they must build, engineer, deconstruct and/or dissect, as well as know basic content and concepts such as biological structures and function. This helps us teachers really see what the student knows and understands. Those who may not be as strong in writing can show us what they know in different ways – through the models that they build and their detailed explanations.

My colleagues and I have noticed that when they are called doctors, students have a stronger sense of responsibility, respect, and discipline. They are more empathetic to others and are better able to listen when differences arise. They become more confident in making decisions and in making mistakes and being wrong. They understand the value they carry in the classroom, and this transcends throughout the culture of the school.

Though they may not want to be career doctors, for at least 70 minutes a day our students are more then just seventh graders in Southeast DC. They are told they have the power to be whatever they want to be, and they are treated like professionals. Hopefully, we are able to invest enough in them that they are encouraged to continue to strive for the best.

Tickets to Mrs. McGill’s play are available here. Learn more about SCALE here.

September Inspired Teaching Institute

Teachers can’t control what happens between the time students wake up and when they arrive at school but they have a lot of control over what happens when students cross the classroom threshold. Participants in this fast-paced, idea-rich Institute will learn 20 different strategies for starting the school day!