How to work in alternative(?) education?
August 22, 2018 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm passionate about learning and education. I'm beginning to see problems with conventional US schools, and don't know if I'm willing to be part of that system right now. What other jobs support learning, and how do I find/get those jobs?

I was one of those odd kids who loved school. (It probably helped that I had some fantastic teachers, and that my mother is an educator.) I've wanted to work in education for a long time. Last year I spent some time as an educational assistant and started to see how ineffective, coercive, and stifling schools can be. I also read John Holt's How Children Learn, and much of it rang true.

I know that one way to improve students' experiences is to be a superlative educator in the existing system. That's something I might want to do someday, but I'm not a superlative educator yet and I want to learn and practice in a healthier environment first.

I have almost a decade of experience at various Bike Collectives, acting as a sort of tutor-mechanic-guide for people who are repairing their own bicycles. I enjoy it and am pretty good at it. It's 100% self-directed learning, and everyone is their of their own volition. It's also mostly adults.

What jobs/careers involve education outside the conventional public/private school system? Should I be looking at summer camps and afterschool programs? Outdoor ed? And how do I get into these fields?
posted by sibilatorix to Work & Money (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You know there about 300 educational models in the US outside of conventional public school education, right? Outside of pilot public schools, there are unschools and nature schools and just like... I went here. I have no idea what it's like now but at the time there were no walls between classrooms, no grades, we called our teachers by their first name and the pedagogy was based on experiential learning. My sister taught at St Anne's, which was similar. There's a highschool for Reed, I think? There are plenty of non-traditional places.

I would reach out and find out what the hire profiles for these schools looks like.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 PM on August 22, 2018

My kid didn't fit into his school. It was sheer misery for him. He's bright, quiet, and interested in lots of stuff (machinery, math, inventions, philosophy) but nothing that was on offer in his classroom. His conventional, private, academic school gently suggested an alternative high school in our city. That school catered to kids like my son, who were somehow misfits in mainstream educational environments, but not seriously problematic kids. No fire-starters, no seriously antisocial kids who would never acclimitize, and who wouldn't bond with the class the way classmates tend to do. The curriculum, though quirky and individualized, met the state standards, and our son did (with some summer school) qualify for a college of mechanical engineering, from which he later graduated, but nearly all of the kids veered toward the arts, so that's where the curriculum veered. Like I said, individualized. There's a curriculum that includes serious dance study, visual arts like film, painting, and glassblowing. There's an honest to god glass furnace on the campus. At graduation, nearly every graduate was moving on to art school. Our son's intro from his teacher included a line about how he'd missed first period every single day for his senior year! We never knew. Now, at his engineeering job he's the first on site. Now he's decided it's important. High school? Not so much. We, his parents needed to relax about it, and the teacher knew. That's inspired teaching . . .

Students have the same homeroom teacher and counselor through their entire high school, and the average class size is 8 to 10. The teachers have a passion for student happiness and success that I have not seen in any other educational environment. And the school has a good grasp of how best to support staff and the students. There is a psychologist on call to assist both students and staff. Assignments typically allow students to personalize assignments. Studying Hamlet? How about a film? A painting exhibit? A dance response? All would be possible, with input and honing from teachers to help students focus on what it is they want to express.

The quirkiness of someone focused on creative teaching and bike repair might fit in well, but on its own, it probably wouldn't be enough for a full-time position. I think you'd have to bring other talents. You are in the best position to determine your talents. It may be that formal teacher qualifications will be unavoidable, especially if you want to teach in an accredited school. They would certainly give you more flexibility.

So these schools do exist. They tend to recruit expert teachers with lots of tools at the ready, but they also hire earnest and talented interns and student teachers. Their budgets are pretty tight, and they can't hire people who won't be an added value. And although it is a private school, it cost no more than the private school he was previously attending. This school was exactly what he needed, and individualized enough to know that missing 1st period wouldn't matter to his success in the long run. He made every 8:00 math or engineering class in college, so I guess they were right.
posted by citygirl at 2:51 PM on August 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was the IT person for a school that teaches "adults with the inter-related challenges of homelessness, illiteracy, learning disabilities, substance abuse, and mental health issues."

- English as a Second Language
- Outward Bound, NOLS
- Community colleges generally have a high percentage of non-traditional students
- Montessori, Waldorf

With your great work at the bike collective it sounds like you're a person who can comfortably connect with almost anyone. The "tutor-mechanic-guide" would be especially an asset in Outward Bound or NOLS. Outward Bound was the best self-directed learning experience I've ever had.
posted by bendy at 11:21 PM on August 22, 2018

I have your same misgivings about teaching in the system, and if I were to go back, I'd try to get in at the Montessori schools in my area. And yeah, nature centers or places like that often have outdoor education programs. You just have to look for them.
posted by RedEmma at 9:26 AM on August 23, 2018

I left the classroom after three years and my whole career since has been in informal and experiential learning:

-Museum education
-Progressive Schools
-Experiential Education
-Outdoor Education
-Recovery programs
posted by Miko at 8:26 PM on August 23, 2018

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