Advanced Placement United States History is a difficult class for high school juniors. It’s for honors students recommended by their sophomore-year teachers. If you don’t maintain a minimum grade average you can be kicked out.
It is also a college credited class, meaning it’s as hard as an actual college class and has a college-like teacher. That teacher, Mr. Sowa, says the best way to succeed is to focus more on actually learning, rather than on what grade you might get.
“The best thing a student could do in any class is to actually learn rather than just completing assignments and trying to get a grade,” Mr. Sowa said. “The students I see who are most successful are the ones who try to learn first and apply their learning to whatever the assignment is. It’s not about filling out worksheets or writing stuff it’s about trying to learn. That’s my advice.”
His casual, conversational style may not seem like hard work, but he said it comes with risks. It requires that students adjust their expectations.
“The hardest part of my job is feeling like a failure a lot of the time. All teachers want to be amazing at their jobs. Anyone who wants to be a teacher wants to have a great impact on their students. But it’s really hard to see the progress people make and sometimes you feel you’re not getting anyone anywhere,” he said.
The easiest part, he said, is hanging out with students. “I enjoy hanging out with kids, especially high school kids, who are closer to not being kids.”
Mr. Sowa has different styles for his two challenging classes. For Government classes, he spends more time explaining the worksheets he gives out and puts more notes on the board. In comparison, in the AP class he usually gives out documents and tells his students to make sense of it themselves. There is a lot more reading in the AP class, and it’s more complex.
“For the AP class, there is less broken down material. The expectation is that you are able to figure out more for yourself,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for a while now so I have a lot of experience. Learning from the people I work with and learning from students in terms of what works and what doesn’t.”
Mr. Sowa has learned from other teachers at BLA II too. He said Ms. Lobianco and Ms. Lukelith helped him grow as a teacher. And there are others, too.
“Ms. Callihan was a good mentor of mine when I first came here. Mr. Flynn, Ms. Jacobson, there’s so many people.”
In college, Mr. Sowa came to love history because of his own history teacher. Soon he was passionate about it. The more he learned about the subject, the more he wanted to become a history teacher.
“I know a lot about history now and when you know a lot about something, it makes your passion for it grow,” he said.