IB- International Baccalaureate.
IB is a European style, rigorous academic programme. I have only taught the "Diploma Programme" which is the high school years here in the US, so I am writing purely from the perspective of an IB Diploma Programme teacher.
I'll start by saying that teaching IB students is an amazing opportunity for any driven teacher. Students have to apply and be accepted to the program. Test scores, other grades, among other factors are considered for acceptance. The program is a fantastic match for intelligent, driven students who do not have major anxiety (I will explain this later).
IB encourages students to embrace 8 learner profiles:
Inquires, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-Minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced, and Reflective. The graphic below goes into details on each one.
IB embraces student-led learning and lends itself to a rigorous curriculum full of opportunities to expand knowledge and experimentation design. IB students are challenged by rigorous projects, materials, and inquiry-based lessons. Students are challenged every day. STEM is easily integrated with IB, especially considering the hands-on approach and emphasis on expanding knowledge and solving real-world problems. The students also have to complete community service hours and must write specific reflections on these experiences outside of the classroom.
So what does an IB teacher do exactly? IB teachers ask their students to research and experiment beyond what most school programs require. The materials present detailed processes and ideas that students can use to solve problems. Novice research and methods are implemented throughout the year. Beyond classwork, students have to write research essays, perform inquiry experiments, perform collaborative research efforts and become experts at presentations. Some student work is graded internally (by a teacher at the school site) and some work is graded externally, in most cases overseas by a moderator. Grading is not flexible as specific guidelines are set and apply to ALL IB schools.
As an IB STEM teacher, I usually introduce really tough materials using a novice article with questions and allow collaboration. I then use a mix of direct instruction, modeling, and collaboration to delve further into the material. Finally, I use an inquiry-based lab or PBL to complete the topic. Teachers have to spend a lot of time prepping assignments. Although students are encouraged to try to learn on their own, IB teachers spend the better part of their day explaining concepts to student groups and individuals, based on the group's or individual's needs. Homework assignments are a must as rigorous material typically requires some review and reflection time outside of the classroom. Also, lab write-ups, essays, and group efforts usually extend beyond the allotted class time. IB teachers are busy as most of the students want an explanation until they all 100% understand the material. They expect top-notch materials, projects, and experiences.
Both students and parents can be extremely critical of an IB teacher's work due to the expectations of the program. IB teachers must grade in detail and be able to defend every lost point. You are expected to have high test scores no matter the students in your classroom. There is definitely pressure to produce high test scores and to create a unique classroom experience. You are expected to have guests visit your classroom, to sponsor a minimum of one club, to tutor students for one hour every day after school or work on classroom materials during this time (at my current site), and to be present for multiple parent conferences beyond the norm. Personally, I thrive in high-stress environments and love the challenge of creating a unique, rigorous experience. I have great relationships with my colleagues, students, parents, and administrators. The beautiful thing about all of this time dedicated to your work is that you build closer relationships with the students and their parents. IB has been a great match for me and I am fortunate to say the same for 99% of my colleagues. We are all highly involved on campus and genuinely like the job.
Okay, now let's talk about the anxiety thing I mentioned. The IB program is not a great match for all intelligent students. Students need to be able to work effectively in a fast-paced, collaborative environment. Students who require extra time to complete assignments or have social difficulties that inhibit group work may not be a great match for the program, but then again I've seen the program help students overcome both obstacles. The program is competitive, so students need to be prepared to face grades that may be lower than their "typical" grades before entering the program. Students also need to be able to manage their time inside and outside of school. Homework load can be rather large, so students must balance time spent on homework, sports, music, other extracurricular activities, and family and social life. The program is not impossible but can create cause stress and aggravate pre-existing anxiety. Also, many students stay up late at night to complete homework for various reasons (procrastination, personal choices, parental choices, etc.), and this lack of sleep can also increase anxiety. In all, the program is a great match for some students and not so great for others. IB is fabulous, but the program is not the be all end all to life. I would recommend evaluating the program for a student on a completely individual basis.
I purposefully did not go into details concerning the specific classes, as classes vary from school to school. I can't speak for all IB programmes, but I can tell you teaching IB has been a wonderful experience for me and I have watched so many students thrive throughout the program. On the flip side, I have also seen some students try to force themselves to be a match for the program and suffer through this process.
Overall, IB is a unique, rewarding, rigorous programme that can enhance a student's learning experience and lead to great opportunities. I recommend trying it out to any student who thrives when they are challenged and who loves to learn.