How to Teach at an Alternative School

Susan Watson

  • My students have been expelled from their home schools for behavioral reasons.  
  • This is my recipe for successfully working with these students, and still loving my job.  I worked at "regular" schools for 18 years before coming to an alternative school setting.    [I have always loved teaching, but this is a completely new challenge!]  :)

1.  Expect every day to be different, on a level exponentially greater than a typical school.  Yesterday you had 1 kid in your class? Today you have 8, two of whom you have never met. One of them has not been in school for three months.  One is learning disabled and one is a genius.  Ready, set, go.  Common Core!

2.  Remember that you are not a #$%!f$%^ or a  ~(I)%$*@, no matter how many times you are called that.

3.  Urban Dictionary is your friend.  It helps you pretend to know what is being discussed.  

4.  Take instructional risks.  Reflect.  Try again.  Challenge them intellectually.   They have often learned that they are not capable.  They are.  Show them this.

5.  Listen.  Carefully.  Complex kids have breakthroughs in moments when you least expect it.  It can come like a whisper or like a tornado.  

6.  Take NOTHING personally.

7.  Start over each day with each kid.  No.matter.what.happened.yesterday.

8.  Do not blame the parents.  Many of them work multiple jobs, are victims of multiple traumas themselves, and they all love their kids in their own way.  

9. Have frequent dance parties in your head.

10. Laugh. Often.

11.  Constantly research, learn, discuss, try new things.  Never stop trying and learning.

12. Remember - you know nothing, and you know everything.  

13.  They come to you assuming you will hate them.  Prove otherwise.

14.  Don't believe half of what the kids say.  They have learned the hard way to be master manipulators.  But, DO believe the other half of what they say. They will speak their truth, in their own way and in their own time.

15.  Did I mention laughter?  Laugh at the ridiculousness of each day, share with colleagues and don't take yourself too seriously.

16.  Be flexible. Support your teammates.  Encourage positivity in all staff.  Work hard but smart.  Ask for what you need.  Give what others need, when you can.

Oh yeah....and it's okay to cry sometimes, too.

Comment Stream

2 years ago
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These are really great points, thanks for sharing. Love your use of GIFs, too. :)

2 years ago
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2 years ago
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Love the sense of improv. Of course, improv is based on deep knowledge and even deeper experience.

2 years ago
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This post was great...awesome use of the gifs.

2 years ago
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You've written my mantra! Especially laughter, listen, and don't take it personally. And, yes, the breakthroughs come in many ways at any time -- sometimes years later and they come back to share.

2 years ago
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I spent some time teaching in an Alt school. What you have written is so true. I laughed out loud a few times while reading, and remembered a few very cool classroom moments as well.