Alternative Ed: What it Really Is

So I’ve decided to try to be one of those blogging teachers.  I can already foresee that I probably will be terrible at regular posting, but you know, I always encourage my students to at least try, so I’m taking my own advice.

One of my favorite teaching blogs for a long while has been Love, Teach.  Her blog detailed experiences in a Title I school up until she left this year, and her most recent post about misconceptions of a Title I school really resonated with me, because I deal with misconceptions about my building and students literally every day from literally everywhere in my life.

I teach at an alternative high school.  It turns out that people do not know what that means, but they really, really think they do.  And they tell me about it – even my own parents.

When I was first looking for jobs during my student teaching experience, I applied to the alternative high school basically because it was an open math position in a city I was interested in.  In my interview, I was immediately convinced that it was where I needed to be when the principal started crying because of how strong her emotions were when telling me about the students.

 

 

Since that moment, around three years ago this time, I have encountered so many misconceptions about the place I teach.  Here are some of them, along with the truth.

1.We have the “bad” kids.  

While some alternative education settings are a disciplinary consequence for trouble students, our building does not operate that way.  Every student has to apply and go through an interview process to attend, and we only accept students who will truly benefit from our setting.

Students come to us for a variety of reasons.  Many of my students struggle with serious mental health issues, and we have trained counselors, support staff, and a mental health therapist on our staff that can help them find ways to succeed academically while also dealing with severe anxiety and depression.  Our class sizes are small (maximum 15 students), which helps many of these students able to operate in a classroom setting more comfortably.

Our policy is that everyone at our school can be themselves, whoever that may be, which means that many LGBT students feel very safe and accepted here.  They may not have struggled academically at all in traditional high schools in the district, but instead had issues with the judgement of their peers.  We have a no tolerance policy for this type of judgment, which sounds like a pipe dream but is truly a reality of students presenting themselves however they feel most comfortable – whatever gender expression, significant other selection, dyed hair, clothing, or makeup options that may entail.

We have students who are parents – who simply cannot succeed in a traditional high school because there is no support to help them attend school while simultaneously attending to the needs of their children.  Our onsite daycare gives them peace of mind to know that their kids are in a safe place while they learn, and our Teen Mom Advisory helps them learn parenting skills and gives them hope for a future that is not limited by the fact that they are parents.

We have students who have devastating stories of their lives outside of school – they have experienced trauma and loss and stress and abuse far beyond anything I can even imagine or comprehend at times.  Some of our students have our building and our staff as their only safe place – the only place they get food, the only constant in their lives.  Again, our support staff works with them to help find safe housing and navigate them through very tough situations.

These are not bad kids.  They are kids who are dealing with more than most adults I know ever could, and trying to graduate high school at the same time.

2. Our classes are “easier”.

I really don’t have another way to say this besides the fact that even other teachers in our district often have the belief that we water down our classes or make them easier to pass.  The truth is that we follow all the same curriculum guidelines that the rest of the district do.  Because of our size and all of our support resources, we are able to give each student more individualized instruction, which might make it seem like it is easier for them to learn the content, but…it’s the same content.  Same graduation requirements.

(Even some way cool classes that the other high schools don’t offer like CSI, Anime, Zombie Apocalypse Survival, Urban Farming, History of Music, and Sports Statistics).

3. Our teachers are here because they aren’t able to get jobs other places.

We have so many really incredible teachers in our buildings.  They love their jobs.  They stay after school to make silly video projects or giant graphs on the hallway floors.  They get together on Friday nights to support students.

Our teachers have to figure out ways to reach students that other teachers have let slip through the cracks.  We have to teach students Algebra while they struggle with mental health issues and sometimes not knowing where they’ll sleep that night.  We have to take their stories into account and still follow a pacing guide.  It takes a special dedication and a lot of outside the box thinking.

They’re here because they want to be, not because this is their only option.  Some of the best teachers in the district (I think) teach in our building.  Teachers who have been teaching for over 30 years could definitely bid into positions at other buildings if they wanted, but they stay because it is a GREAT place to work.  I know few adults who love their jobs as much as I do, and I feel sorry for them.  I wish they could know the magic of working here.

 

 

The good news is, we’ve done a LOT of work in the last two years since our new building opened to try to change community perceptions of our school and our students.  So here’s the truth.

1. Our students rock.

They’re winning.  They’re beating their family situations, homelessness situations, mental health issues, and learning disabilities.  They’re proving wrong every teacher, parent, classmate who ever told them that they couldn’t.  They’re showing that they can be wholly themselves and define their own versions of success.

They’re writing bills to present to the state legislature, running for school board, planting crops, and GRADUATING.  (There hasn’t been a single graduation of the 5 I’ve attended so far where I haven’t cried with pride afterwards)

My Sports Statistics students successfully used their analysis-based predictions to win our March Madness pool.

Just take a scroll through our twitter for more.

2. Our teachers rock.

They give their time, energy, and expertise to our students every day.  They use research based practices to improve instruction. They get support from John Deere and publicity for our urban farm project.  Give up lunch periods to play basketball with students.  Try new things in their classes every day to try to help their students learn more.

They celebrate every little success with students, and reformat their ideas of what success looks like to fit every student individually.

They participate in book studies, go to conferences, and collaborate with each other to try to be better every day.  Half our staff got trained in Project Based Learning during our time off in the summer last year.  Our math team is creating an online resource bank where students can go when they miss instruction that is specifically aligned with our curriculum.  Did I mention the really cool classes earlier?  All the teachers who teach them developed the curriculum for them on their own time and using their own passions and expertise.

3. Our staff rock.

Our support staff are some of the most inspirational people in my life.  They take students to conferences.  For our students who thought college was never an option, they bring college fairs right to our building.  They participate in our weird, silly spirit days.  Check in on students who have been gone to see how they are, to let them know we’d love them to come back.  They give students rides to school and take them to doctor’s appointments.

They develop lunch groups and before school clubs that are safe, fun places for students to fit in.  Our principal greets every student by name in the morning as they walk in, as do our case managers.

They create an in school food bank for our students who go home hungry to be able to serve their needs.  They get clothing donated for students to wear to job interviews.  They set up a student store with hygiene products and baby supplies and anything else a student might need, and give it away for free (we’re always accepting donations).  They make sure that this school is a safe place for every single student who walks in the door.

 

 

I love my job so, so much.  I love my students a ridiculously intense amount.  If you feel like you had one of the misconceptions of our building before…please come visit.  You’re welcome anytime.  We’d love to show off.

 

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Author: missmastalio

Math teacher at an alternative high school. Living the best life.

7 thoughts on “Alternative Ed: What it Really Is”

  1. 😓…Just a little emotional over here! Extremely well written! Proud to work with you, our colleagues, and our students!

    Like

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write and share your experience and perspective on alternative education and the culture of your campus. I believe this will help clear up some misconceptions that a lot of people may be holding on to.

    Like

  3. I was just with a bunch of educators on the other side of the river explaining some of the things Mid City is about- this is an amazing article and much more articulate than I was about how great Mid City is to be at a student and staff. It’s so out of the box thinking that many people don’t believe it when I tell them all about it- especially the tolerance and acceptance, and a school of choice. Keep up the amazing work! Your energy is infectious and makes a huge difference in a lot of lives!

    Like

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