Monday, October 5, 2015

A Dream (School) Reborn

A few years ago, I started thinking about creating a school of my own. Of taking everything I've been learning in my exploration of education and combining it into one beautiful amalgamation of a physical location where children and young adults can grow and thrive. The best pieces of every methodology combined into something wonderful. A place that cultivates 21st century citizens, peaceful, creative, and healthy. A place that is living and changing and growing right along with its students.

Unfortunately, as I began teaching in the "real world," I felt that dream slipping away.

Here's a story I've heard again and again: a curious, playful, life-loving, fun-creating, happiness-filled five-year-old enters school, vivacious and energized, excited because she knows it means learning, something she loves more than anything. And she's told to sit still in a hard, plastic chair for hours. She's told that she mustn't speak unless she raises her hand. That she must follow directions given to her by adults. That she isn't to ask why. Just do it because we tell you to. And slowly but firmly, all of the curiosity and energy and enthusiasm for learning is beaten out of her until she's just like the rest of the students, just another pawn in the game of modern society.

A similar thing happened to me. I, as well, entered school, but as the teacher. I was made to make the students sit still in hard, plastic chairs for hours. I was made to tell the students that they mustn't speak unless they raise their hands. That they must follow the directions I give them. That they aren't to ask why, just do it because I tell them to.

I've been fighting bout after bout of depression and work-related stress. I've tried to tell myself that it's silly, to get over it, because "I have a great job." I've worked in two different schools where I could "create my own curriculum" and design the classroom "however I like." Why should I feel depressed and stressed out about that? I've been able to innovate and try different methods of teaching, throwing out ideas that I couldn't get to work and supplementing them with new ones of my own creation. I've been getting more and more courageous--I'm currently working to design a deskless classroom!

But the thing is, it's still a classroom. It's still all within the structure of the traditional public school.

Since I've started actually teaching, I've been told that this is just the way real teaching really is. I've been surrounded by "educators" that have had their curiosity and energy and enthusiasm for teaching slowly but firmly beaten out of them until they're just like the rest of the teachers, just creating more pawns in the game of modern society.

I let them and everyone else around me kill the dream school idea. It was a silly idea. THIS is what it's like to REALLY be teaching.

And, just like the little girl, I became disillusioned by what everyone else decided was what "school" really meant, what "teaching" really meant.

Like her, I had hopes and dreams of what I could do once I really got to "school," once I really started "teaching," what it would mean and what it would be like.

And like her, I got crushed when I really got there, shoved into a role that wasn't meant for me, broken of spirit.

And yet, I haven't been able to shake this feeling that I'm meant for something else... Something I don't even know about yet... You know that statistic that says some such number of students will one day work in jobs that haven't even been created yet? I haven't been able to shake the thought of that...

This summer, in the midst of beating my head against a wall to develop a curriculum for my third year of teaching, I had to take a break. I had to step away from the nothing I was doing and the persistent screaming in my head. I took a walk and ended up at an elementary school near my house, one that was shut down to ship the students off to a bigger, more factory-like model of school, despite the protest of children and parents who loved the building and the community it housed. I peeked in every window, wondering what it was like, this place so many people once loved and fought so hard in vain to protect. I found myself dreaming of reopening it.

I dreamed all day, though my brain continued its screaming about the impending doom of the Upcoming School Year. I know why. My thoughts took refuge there to escape the actual work I needed to do. I know it was easier to live there in a fantasy-dream world where everything was perfect and happy-fun-times. It was an escape tactic.

But I've kept coming back. It's been three months, and I can't get the thoughts out of my mind.

I just can't fight it anymore--my dream of opening a school has been reborn.

Most of the time, because it happens very frequently, the story of the little girl has a dreary ending--she lives a sad, frustrated childhood and grows up to live much the same as an adult. But sometimes it has a happy ending--the child and her parents find a new, alternative school more fit to her learning style where she can thrive. Her passion is reignited.

I've been doing more research again on alternative schools and education. I've been reading Summerhill School, a book that's been on my To Read list for years. I'm glad I saved it for now because this is a time when it can really empower me. I'm only a little ways into it so far, but I've been as inspired by it as I was my first time through Children Who are Not Yet Peaceful. I've also been researching other democratic schools, including Sudbury. I have so much to learn and to think about and to explore. I have so much to write. So much to do! Like the little girl with the happy ending of the story, my passion has been reignited.

And that statistic I keep thinking about, with the students that will work in jobs that have yet to be invented? I think it does apply to me, after all, and my job hasn't been created yet because I haven't created it.