Thursday, January 24, 2008


I awoke this morning to a text message from ex art teacher (who is coming back to do art this year) asking me whether I was coming in to school this week because if so we could meet and do a quick handover of the art program/key/info. I almost went into hyperventilation mode while reading it. No, I'm not quite ready to be so formal yet. Sure, I actually went into school for two very long, hard, messy days last week to clean my room and get it ready (is there any other job where the workers are made to clean their own office and rearrange the furniture and even in my case BRING IN MY OWN furniture?) - so the point is, I already went in early last week so I didn't have to do it now.

The text this morning reminded me that my time as a lady of leisure is almost over. It also made me feel nervous. Going back to the classroom is a big change from the art role - the biggest part of this change is having once again to deal with parental influence and pressure. For the most part I think I handle the pressure quite well and get along with most parents. But on the other hand there are a few parents who do make a teacher's life a living hell and those parents are the ones that end up overruling all the lovely ones. The way to make a teacher's life hell is not by requesting interviews, or by wanting more homework, or even by ringing them to discuss their child. All this stuff, I want the parents to do. I want them to be diligent about their child's reading as I am. I want them to strive for the best. The problems occur only when the parents are completely off the planet with their demands and/or are aggressive. The year level I'm going back to teach is by far the worst in terms of parental pressure on teachers, until probably year 12 VCE High School.

My non teacher friends don't quite believe my stories of being interrupted in the middle of lessons by parents who are pissed about something, or being told that they rule the school and that they can get anything they want done so watch out (this was actually said to a teacher I know), or dealing with parent teacher interviews where the parents actually REFUSE to leave (dude, you get 10 minutes like everyone else!) or parents who shout, are aggressive, complain to the prin instead of coming straight to you (news flash, prin has no idea what you're going on about), blame the teacher if their child loses a jumper (like as if we're stockpiling them or something) - and the best one, those that will stand outside the classroom with their noses pressed right into the window so they can see what's going on (not offputting for the child at all!). You see, when I relate these stories to my friends, they think I'm exaggerating - as I tend to do most times. The thing is, they all have jobs where the client has to make an appointment in order to see management and they all are in workplaces where there are rules of conduct that are actually followed by their clients. They can't quite believe that someone would be harassed like that in their place of work. Well, believe it - there isn't a teacher alive out there who doesn't have a horror story.

Anyway, the point is, thinking about this makes me extremely nervous. I'm about to get my world rocked when honestly I prefer people to be more easy going. It'll be tough.

The other day I was researching alternative education on the web. I've always been interested in alternative education - that is education that is not run by the state or private schools. I mean, independent schools where they are a law unto themselves. I came across a school run by a quite well known children's book author - that is located just outside of Melb. The school sounds interesting and is so unlike the experiences of a general education that I do wonder how things operate.

The principal wanted to create a school that was based about what schools were like back before the bureaucracy got a hold of the reigns and started controlling everything. The website of the school outlines it's educational approach which all seem very run of the mill except when you get to the last point. Food should not to be brought to school, as we provide morning tea and lunch and snacks in-between. Lollies, chewing gum and soft drinks are not to be brought to school at any time. We cater for allergies and special diets. Interesting and you know, I like it. There is another school in Melbourne that has a similar philosophy on food and cooking (scroll down). More and more schools I've had contact with are rejecting not only cooking in the school, but also the sharing of food or if they do cooking it is not eaten because of the risk of a) contamination. b) allegries. Back when I was at school we cooked, we ate, we shared food, we had parties with food. News flash! Food is part of being human. Let's embrace that fact again. It makes me sad that food is so feared in our society: due to the so called (scaremongering) obesity epidemic or to other factors such as allergies and other controlling forces.

The other part of this particular school that impressed me in particular was the "is this school right for you?" page. Basically, it's the school laying down the law and saying; this is what we do, if you don't like it then pick somewhere else to send your child. It's nothing that is out of the ordinary either. It's just about respecting the school environment. I heartily agree with #10 which states We are very happy for parents to be involved in the life of the school, in all kinds of rich, exciting and rewarding ways. We work on an `invitation-acceptance’ or an `offer-acceptance’ basis. In other words, we may invite parents to contribute to the school in some way, and they may accept our invitation; equally they may offer to help us in some way and we may accept their invitation. However we are not happy with parents who want to impose their own agendas on the school, and we don’t tolerate parents who attempt to bully the school, teachers, or other students.. You get the feeling that this rule is actually upheld and that's a good thing.

But my favourite philosophy behind both schools, and many alternative education schools is their stance on free time. Nowadays free time is a dirty word to most parents and especially to the department. Free time implies that the time is idle and wasted. But to me, free time is always where you learn the most because you are left to your own devices. It's no secret that most of what we learn we actually learn through experimentation and play. All those things we, as adults, do that grabs and holds our attention is achieved through experimentation and choice - with a camera, or a paintbrush, some words, or a book or whatever it is that we do when we are not actually forced to do anything. Free time doesn't mean "not learning" free time means researching something for yourself, it means tactile, it means feeding your imagination. The things that stick out in our minds are the things that we have pioneered and discovered for ourselves or with others in tow. Free time is an important part of school life that has been lost in both the private and government sector because of fear that we are not 'doing our jobs and teaching'. It's become corrupted by this view that giving a child free time will mean they are not learning anything. This point of view is so ignorant it makes me ill. I feel sorry for those children whose whole day is organised, from school all day which is organised into little sections of learning to after school where often they partake in some new kind of organised learning as well - sport, dance, language, play dates. I speak to so many parents who are basically chauffeurs on the weekend too. It's sad. I'm finding that these alternative schools put a lot of value in free time and thank God. Obviously it's not something that is done excessively - but rather it's just something that is seen as important.

The school has only been running a couple of years and I do wonder what kind of student the school will produce after a few years - and indeed what will that student be like as an adult and as an older student in a mainstream high school. Will they be wildcats who are behind in learning and unable to function in the real world or will they be the pioneers of an independent mind, creativity and cooperation - active in creating a new kind of world?

For the record, I don't agree with all facets of alternative education - nor to I disagree with all ways in which public or private schools are run.

But what say you? Would you ever consider alternative education for your own child? Was it a choice you ever entertained but decided against? Never considered it? Were you a child of alternative education? Know people who are into it? Hate the way that schools are run but still aren't putting your money where your mouth is by sending your child somewhere else? I'd love to know your thoughts!

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