Alternate ed.

While in Detroit staying with my cousins, I spent a day visiting the school where my cousin David teaches.  It’s an alternate ed school on the same campus as a regular high school in the suburb of Birmingham. Classes are open age and not organised by grade level. 

I’ve had some interaction with one of the Hunanities teachers here before, as we have set up some interaction and communication between our history classes. It was great for our students to share their experiences and perspectives, and to find out their similarities and differences in the ways they view and understand world events and the ways in which they enjoy recreation, sports and entertainment. It was wonderful to meet with Mallory and continue our collaboration in person. 

I took the opportunity to share with several classes about the similarities and differences between the USA and Australia. Geography, politics, government, food, popular culture, flora and fauna, and history have all been topics of conversation. The students have been really interested and keen to discuss things, so I’ve really had a lot of fun. Talking with teens comes naturally to me, so I have been very blessed to have these opportunities. 

I also had the chance to watch my cousin teach geometry to a student who hates math. In his words, “Every moment of this is agony for her.” By the end of this one-on-one instruction time, she is mentally exhausted but she has achieved two learning goals and shown that she is making progress. She takes a nap for the remainder of the session: this is both her reward and essential recovery time after a lesson in which she has fought to achieve mastery of skills and knowledge that many students might take for granted as “basic”. 

I can understand where she is coming from. I hated math too: I found it very difficult, and my teacher was neither patient nor understanding of my weaknesses. I have to say that if my math teacher had been as gentle and encouraging as my cousin is with his students, I might have leaned more. There really is a art to teaching “math as a foreign language”, as David so neatly puts it. Other students in the room are more self-driven and work quietly in the relaxed learning environment where there’s blues music playing and the communication is casual and comfortable, even though the expectations and academic standards are maintained.  

I am so impressed. The students here are getting a chance to succeed and graduate where the regular classroom did not work for them. The staff are very proactive and constructive in their communication. In that, they are very much like the teachers with whom I work and, I’m sure, most teachers the world over.  It’s not really a unique thing that we do, but each of us has incredible opportunities to impact every student’s day, every student’s willingness to learn, and the outcomes of that in every student’s life. Here, where the kids face other issues in addition to those generally faced by teens in regular schools, there’s some powerful work being done to engage and mentor young people who are at very real risk of otherwise “falling through the cracks” or dropping out altogether. 

As David and I walked out at the end of the day, I was struck by the difference in appearance between his school and the one upstairs, which clearly gets more funding and attention than the other. It may look nicer up there, but I have developed a very soft spot for the students and the staff at Lincoln St Alternate Ed. What happens there is very, very special indeed. 

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The perils of report writing.

After being a teacher for twenty-six-and-a-half years, I’m surprised that it has only just occurred to me that the effect of report writing on the body is much like pregnancy cravings.

I’m working away, absorbed in the delicate task of crafting a finely constructed, highly expressive report of the achievements and needs of each student when all of a sudden, my body speaks to me.
“Sugar. I need sugar.”
I think of ice cream, then of oreos. Ice cream with oreos. Awesome.

I’m about to get out of my chair and go foraging, but then I remember that I have an enormous amount of work to do and I don’t want to get too distracted. Instead, I look for sweets in the drawers beside my chair. An almost-empty packet yields two licorice allsorts which are consumed in quick succession, shortly after which I decide that this may not have been a good idea, even if the choice of licorice did seem healthier than the unholy amount of chocolate consumed while writing Year 10 English until 1.45 am. Feeling a little queasy, I continue working.

“Mmmm. Pickles. I’d love a pickle.”
Subsequent investigation in the kitchen leads to the conclusion that there are no pickles in the house and then to the discovery that a couple of large slices of tinned beetroot makes a fabulous substitute. Who knew?

Feeling surprisingly sated, I return to my work and let my creative juices flow.
The industry with which the words flow from my mind to my fingertips and onto the screen is impressive. This lasts for at least fifteen minutes, until the dilemma of how to write about young Miss Elsie Whosiewhich’s failure to submit any work at all for the entire semester leaves one wondering if there are any cheese and onion flavoured potato chips in the house.
These thoughts are set aside with determination to at least finish writing half of the Year 10 history reports before I take another break, but before long the jar of coffee on the counter is calling out to me and I’m powerless to resist. Caffeine will keep me alert and help me concentrate, right?

I walk into the kitchen to make coffee but get distracted by thoughts of a peanut butter sandwich. Suddenly it’s all too much work, so I pour another glass of Coke Zero and head back to my study. It occurs to me just how freaking awesome cold coke tastes and feels. Delicious, ice-cold bubbly goodness delivering caffeine to my brain with every sip. Then I realise that I am a bit hungry and I should have grabbed that peanut butter sandwich while I was up. Dammit. I hunt for one of my Reese’s cups that I’ve hoarded in case of an emergency, and almost cry with happiness when I find it. Oh, that delicious peanut-buttery goodness…

Oh, wait. The caffeine was supposed to help me concentrate, wasn’t it?
Right. Back to it then.