Saturday, August 1, 2009

How I got started in alternative education

I went from engineering to teaching...not a lucrative life change. In order to subsidize my teaching, I worked in engineering on temp jobs during the summer. One summer, a job lasted longer than expected, and , not having a regular teaching contract that winter, we stayed on the job until January. Because we expected to return home 'any day now', I allowed my son to stay out of school that fall. I 'home-schooled' him, and he spent his days in the nearby university library. By the time we returned home, he had become quite resistent to going back to school. The spring was a struggle. He was miserable and hated school. By that fall, we were at an impasse.

By summer, I had also given up on teaching, having taught the last semester pretty much without a paycheck. I had always wanted to go back to school for my Ph.D., I applied at the University of California, Davis, and was accepted into their program for the next fall.

We moved onto campus in the fall. I attempted to enroll my son in school, but he was adamant that I should allow him to continue with 'home-schooling'. I felt I would not have time, with graduate studies, to help him enough. He researched and discovered a new school, just started, that would be a good compromise. He would get his assignments, and have them checked weekly by a credentialed teacher, yet not have to attend daily. I was reluctant, but we agreed to a trial period.

For the first couple of weeks, it seemed as though he was on vacation. He really didn't seem to do much but 'hang out'. We had a few discussions about this, but one day, I came home from class to find that he had organized his life, gotten his program started, and was finally on a recognizable track.

The next few years were joyful, eventful and the greatest adventure of our lives. My son became a real student, enjoying the learning process, and learning for fun! We had great conversations about a wide range of topics that sometimes lasted days. This was my beginning of my love affair with Davis School for Independent Study.

Over the next few years, I watched, enthralled at the magic I witnessed. Here, finally, was a school that really helped students, teachers who cared, who were advocates for the students, allowing them, encouraging them, to develop their potential. It was thrilling to watch. Before I had finished my graduate program, they asked me to start helping with math classes; I accepted. By the time I graduated, I had started teaching full time at DSIS. I taught there for ten years.

I will probably discuss DSIS and the alternative schooling idea a lot here, as I've found that it tremendously successful in motivating and creating life-long learners. I have often wondered why more schools do not follow their example.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Education of today's students

Today's educators are challenged. They are expected to be made 'accountable', verified through many irrelevant tests, be responsible for teaching students all that they should learn, when they know that the only thing the public cares about is the results on those tests, and ...expected to do so on ...usually...a very limited budget of time and money. What should they do?

Many of our students are finishing school without the ability to read, or to write, or to be able to think through common scenarios with common sense. Many of our students are opting for not finishing school, as they consider it irrelevant to their life.

On the other hand, many of our students are being successful, engage in real learning, and are successful, due to, or despite their formal education. What is the difference between these two large groups of students? What decides whether or not they fail or succeed? I'd love to hear from people on both sides of this question.