Each morning, science teacher Darrell Steely bikes to work from his Pacific Grove home. When he arrives at Carmel Middle School, however, his commute for the day is far from over, and three hours later he packs up and rides through Hatton Canyon for a second installment, this time at CHS, teaching twelfth- instead of sixth-graders.
Steely is one of several teachers who divide their time between the middle and high school, a situation that gives him a rare vantage point into two worlds.
“I think I’m very fortunate,” says the AP Biology teacher, adding that the arrangement helps him understand how to best relate what kids learn in middle school to what they’ll need at the high school level.
Not only does such a split schedule offer these unique insights, but it also can provide important continuity in a student’s transition to high school, as is the case with the choir program, which is unusual for public schools in that it is taught at both sites by one instructor, Tom Lehmkuhl.
Freshman Colleen Lang, for instance, took choir for two years in middle school and is continuing with it at CHS.
“In choir it’s really nice because [the teacher knows] your voice,” Lang remarks, “and you get to know him as a person…. Also, seeing a familiar adult face is always helpful.”
Reasons why teachers split their time between CMS and CHS vary. For Steely and math teacher Kurt Grahl, it was part of the job description, while for Weight Training and Physical Education teacher Craig Johnston, it was his choice to volunteer for a middle school position when they needed another teacher.
In some cases, a course’s very structure is dependent on the instructor teaching at both schools. Joyce Liu, for example, teaches Chinese levels I through IV, starting in CMS, but because she is the subject’s only teacher, any students interested in the language must start in seventh grade.
“What usually happens is we have a need…and don’t have enough classes to support a full-time teacher,” Principal Rick Lopez explains. “So we share with CMS in order to provide the course.”
This often means that teachers must share a classroom. According to math teacher Kurt Grahl, this is one of the toughest challenges of working at both schools, which also include managing two distinct schedules, transporting materials back and forth, switching teaching styles and—in some cases—being unable to help students during CHS office hours.
Granted, not everyone would be happy splitting their time in such a manner. But for those who do manage it, the experience is a rewarding and enriching one.
“It really has shown me the tremendous growth that occurs between seventh and twelfth grade, physically, emotionally and intellectually,” Johnston reflects.
And while, as Lehmkuhl admits, working “half-time” at each school makes it harder to integrate with the faculty and student population at either school, traveling between sites does present a forced break in the day that he appreciates as a chance to get outside.
“It also means I feed my own program,” Lehmkuhl says of the arrangement. “For me [that’s] great because I know the skill level of the kids coming up.”
But when all is said and done, teaching at both schools is a definite study in contrasts, one where instructors learn to switch styles for their audience—from quirky middle-school enthusiasm to mature high-school intellectualism—and to view the district not as individual sections but as a whole, interconnected community.