We all have a story. Each of us had pivotal educational moments that came at the hands of either great or not-so-great educators. My favorite elementary school teacher was Mrs. Nelson in the 3rd grade. She made learning so much fun! She built an archeological dig site in the middle of her classroom when we studied fossils and cooked up banana soup for us when we studied tribes in Africa. There was always a hands-on element to her lessons. She was gentle, loved science, and was always calm. She gave me confidence and never openly compared her students.
This was in sharp contrast to my least favorite teacher. Mr. Osborn, my 5th grade teacher was a fan of public embarrassment as a punishment. If you failed to turn in an assignment, he would choose one of his favorite students (always the same 2 or 3) to come over, dump your desk out onto the floor, and leave you to put everything back in with the hope of finding the missing work. This system firmly established a pecking order in the class, torpedoed my self-esteem, and was just plain embarrassing. He also enjoyed the game, Around the World. Two students stand up and are asked a math question. Whoever answered first moved to the next student and the questions continued until all the students competed. The student who didn’t answer would sit back down. I get gut rot just thinking about it! I can honestly say standing up in front of the class and competing for intelligence points was awful for me. I remember being so nervous waiting for my turn that I never even tried to answer. Why would I want to? This is not to say that competition in the classroom is bad. There are personalities that thrive in that kind of environment but I was not one of them.
I was a solid A-/B+ student my whole life but it was hard work for me. I was not a naturally good test-taker and by my senior year in high school, I developed a pretty impressive test anxiety that made the SATs an unholy nightmare. You mean I get to take a 3-hour test that determines where I will go to college, thus determining my future? Super! Thankfully I had supportive parents, chose an in-state school which made my SAT score less influential on my admission (go 880!), and discovered naturopathic calming remedies. By my sophomore year in college, I had my anxiety under control.
At 19, I was lucky enough to find a part-time job with an airline. It was a perfect college job in that it gave me an income and allowed me to travel at little or no cost in my free time. I LIVED on airplanes. I spent every available day off traveling all over the country. I saw battlefields first-hand, learned about the history of the nation’s first cities, wandered Ivy League campuses, ate my first hot dog in Central Park, and loved every minute of it. This love translated into a very successful college career where I earned a scholarship, majored in history, and graduated with honors. I found my groove!
I had no plans to be a teacher. I intended to take my history degree to Washington D.C. where I would become an archivist/secret spy. By a series of random events, I ended up as a teaching assistant at a local charter school in Awhatukee, Arizona called Horizon Community Learning Center (HCLC). I didn’t know it at the time, but this job would take my life in a totally unexpected direction.
HCLC is an incredible place. It operates like a public school (no tuition) but all the kids who attend apply to get in. Every family that attends the school makes a choice to be there. This is the fundamental reason why it is a fantastic place to learn. When families are invested in their learning environment, everything else clicks into place. The kids are more confident, parent involvement is better, teachers feel supported, the list is endless. I started as a teaching assistant, stayed for my student teaching, and was hired as a 5th grade teacher once I earned my certification.
I will write about HCLC in more detail later but suffice to say it formed the standard by which all my future academic environments and those of my kids will be compared. As a parent now, education takes on a whole new significance. It is so important to me that I have a hard time accepting what even our best-rated local public school has to offer. That’s why in the last 3-years my kids have attended public school, been homeschooled, and are now in a cooperative public elementary school. It’s been interesting trying to find the right fit for what I think is optimal learning for my kids.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about education in some way. This blog is a place for me to put those thoughts. My husband is relieved. Thanks for reading.