From Hartselle to Home: A Newcomer’s Reflection on the 2017 A+ College Ready Summer Training

Written by Cade K. Somers,
Oxford High School English teacher

6:00 AM daily departure. Destination: Hartselle High School via I-20 and I-65. One could say, “for professional development,” but that might connote something far too migraine-inducing. This was challenging, but also refreshing. It definitely satisfied my highest hopes that arose when I received a recent email beginning, “Mr. Harmon (Oxford High School principal) wants you to be trained [to teach Pre-AP] this summer.”


June 13-16 Hartselle High School (HHS) welcomed numerous secondary teachers to its beautiful, state-of-the-art campus to participate in A+ College Ready’s Summer Training. As a first-timer and recently assigned Pre-AP 10 teacher, this experience was all new, except what little I pieced together from observing Pre-AP classes in instructional rounds, discussing coursework with Pre-AP/AP teachers, and hearing colleagues praise the effectiveness of A+/LTF lessons.


But I’m out-of-the-loop no more. Now I’m sharing my experience to bolster the knowledge and skills others gained from previous trainings since Oxford High School (OHS) became a partner school in Cohort III (2010).


That 262-mile daily round trip could’ve been torture. Even apart from a coffee tumbler at my side, podcasts shuffling from education program to program, and road-safe (i.e., audio) Voxer conversations with my district colleagues, the training was enjoyable. It offered rewarding in-depth looks into the content and strategies of the A+ curriculum in a positive, supporting environment.


I don’t measure the impact of my LTF training by miles; I measure it by how well it prepared me to teach, engage, and enable my students.


Location. HHS (also a Cohort III partner) was an exemplary host. Student ambassadors escorted guests to the respective rooms of specialized training. Signs marked everything one would need. The facilities were clean. Ideas in the form of student-decorated parking spaces, student-recognition-focused bulletin boards, a coffee shop, indoor and outdoor cafeteria seating options, and word of coming makerspaces and an in-house credit union branch inspired me.


Instructors and Resources. Kelly Duncan (Arab, AL), assisted by Flannery Stanford (Gulf Shores, AL), taught us as an experienced Pre-AP teacher. She treated us as professionals, welcoming our questions and giving practical responses that seemed logical and doable in actual classroom contexts. She demonstrated how to find specific resources from NMSI and the A+ College Ready Dropbox. She even daily emailed us supplemental resources she’s borrowed or adapted for her own classroom use.


Environment. Chris, Angie, Kelli, Dorothy, Sloan, Maggie, Jackie – these and other fellow Alabama teachers made training meaningful. We shared stories, conferred in thought, laughed at one another’s idiosyncrasies, and found common among ourselves a mindset committed to improving our knowledge, practice, and impact.


Format. Training started with a Socratic Seminar discussing the roles of curriculum and teachers, according to two texts (seen here and here). Then each day progressed with a little-by-little unfolding of the A+ curriculum, one nine weeks (i.e., module) per day. Despite the impossibility of detailing every text, skill, and strategy of the curriculum, those selected for our mock instructional blocks, in which we teachers became students (see the included picture of my group’s postmortem character analysis of John Oakhurst, character of “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”), were representative of the look and feel of many of the non-dissected lessons.


Curriculum. The A+ curriculum was presented as rigorous yet manageable. The program is finely tuned to a daily schedule of readings, activities, and assessments. The texts are accessible, and the thematic concepts connect to modern students. Innovative teachers will find it easy to make cross-curricular applications and even find ways to allow students to freely explore subjects as they enter new units of study.


Thankfully, it’s still summer. But with A+CR training complete, I’m getting excited at the prospect of the new school year. I’m not aware how many schools still haven’t participated in the A+ College Ready program, but there’s no question those that remain should sign up today. Whether two miles or 262, it’s worth the trip.