Kim, Alternative High School Teacher, CA
I want every child in the system to feel like they get their needs met. That they stay interested in learning and are excited to learn the next thing. And that every child gets to follow their path - not just a rigid one-way path - the path of their choice.
Kim is a teacher at an alternative school in California. She was interviewed by one of her students, as part of a #schoolpartnership with REENVISIONED in which students interview each other and the adults in their lives to reflect on how school fits within their broader dreams and aspirations for life.
Alright Kim, tell me about yourself.
Tell you about myself. Well, let's see…I am a teacher and I've always worked in alternative schools. I got my credential way back in 1981 – so I’ve been at it for a long time. I have two daughters who are 21 and 25 and so I have experienced all the choices I made for their schooling throughout time. That’s probably enough for now.
Okay, so take a moment and think about a child that you care about, and when you're ready, tell me about that child.
Okay. I’ll start by saying it's my daughter my - oldest daughter. I'm obviously thinking about this being organized around school, so I'm going to focus on that. When she was ready to go to kindergarten, I started visiting kindergartens and realized that the daughter I had wasn't going to fit there. I don't know why exactly it was more intuitive - like “this isn't going to be a good place for my daughter.” Because my husband traveled a lot I decided to home school her. I wasn't sure why exactly, because that wasn't necessarily anything I'd experienced, but I could tell that the kindergarten experience wasn't going to work for her.
So instead of typical kindergarten, we traveled a lot with my husband and I ended up enrolling her in a home school program when she was in second or third grade. One of her teachers who was working with her as a consultant at the time said, “you know your daughter's not learning to read and she's not progressing like most kids and I'm a little concerned and I think you should have a test.” I was really freaked out by that because I thought, “oh my gosh my kid is gonna be labeled I don't want her tested!”
But, in the end we had her tested and it turned out to be amazing because I learned all these things about my kid that I knew but didn't know how to articulate - some of those things were probably why I decided not to put her in a public school kindergarten like I had planned. When we tested her it became clear she is classically dyslexic – which is why she wasn't reading in the third grade. She could look like she was reading though, she was really observant knew how to make it look like it, but it was really hard for her. So at that point my husband and I hired a tutor for her as well, and we got services and that's when we found Monarch school. We thought, “okay maybe she'll fit here and she can get some services.” It was a really successful model for her - she ended up going through public junior high and high school and she graduated from college, but she learned a lot about herself self along the way. I had to advocate a lot for her as a parent and went to a lot of IEPs (individual education program) meetings. That was kind of my experience with her - I care about her and I care a lot about her education.
You were saying that, because of her, you found out about Monarch - what was your first impression of the Monarch School?
What I liked about it and what it really attracted to me was the fact that they didn't have grades, they had multi-age classrooms so kids could kind of find their way with kids of many ages and learn at their own pace, and I liked that parent participation was welcomed so I could be part of it. It it gave our family a great community to raise our kids with other families we knew that were involved. Those things were my attraction to it.
Now imagine if your daughter was in her mid thirties, what would you hope for her?
She's close, she's ten years out since she's twenty five! I hope that she has a job that she really enjoys that she feels confident in. I hope that she has meaningful relationships in her life. I hope that she has lots of time beyond work to live a fulfilled life and pursue some of her other passions besides what she's going to do for work.
I hope she feels that life is happy and that she's healthy and positive.
Do you think school has helped with this?
Yes. And I think that my awareness as a parent helped helped with it - I was able to help her find a way through school that would help her. I think she learned about having a voice, feeling better about the fact that instead of her learning abilities being bad they were just different and that helped her self esteem.
Do you think there is anything that could stand in the way of her achieving that good life you want for her?
I think that what could stand in the way of late is just society feeling like a burden itself. It's expensive to live in the places that she would want to live, and I worry she wouldn't be able to find a job she enjoys. So those things could get in the way. I hope they don't.
Think back to when you were in school - is there a teacher who really impacted you?
Yes! My second and third grade teacher, Mrs Taffeta.
Why was she your favorite teacher?
She did really interesting things with us. She was an artist beyond being a teacher so we did a lot of different kinds of art in her class. She had our class put on a play, she was way more interested in things that we could do in her classroom besides just reading and writing and arithmetic.
In society in general, what do you think about how schooling is going?
We need some change in school. Personally I think the way school has been set up is good for a certain kind of learner, but I think it's a narrow band width of learners. There's a lot of learners outside of school’s definition of successful - we need to widen our scope in school to invite other learners to feel like they're successful.
If you got a Genie with three wishes but the only requirement is has to be about school - what would the three wishes be to change school?
I would first change how we look at instruction. I would create more lab-like classrooms that kids could go and be drawn to what they're really interested in. There would be adults within those labs who can guide their interests – that’s one wish.
Another wish would be to have teachers be more respected by giving them better pay – and also have teachers be passionate about what they're interested in. So teacher training would change to incorporate those things.
And the third wish….
I would wish that every child in the system feels like they get their needs met and they stay interested in learning and are excited to learn the next thing. That every child gets to follow their path and it's not just a rigid one-way path, it's the path of their choice.
Last question - is there anything you’d like to say that I haven’t asked you about?
I really appreciate that we have alternative programs so that we can provide alternative education options for kids. I hope that teachers remain open to being learners their whole careers. I know that for me the path of coming in to an alternative school at the end of my career has been really eye opening for me in terms of some of my own personal biases and how I thought about things. I have a really appreciated getting to know students on a deeper level and creating relationships. I hope that that kind of model where teachers have more personal relationships with students, and kids feel like they have advocate adults in their lives, will be possible for all students.
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