SWW: Outside of My Comfort Zone?

I really feel as if I learned a lot today. It was nice to be able to step out of my comfort zone, to step away from what I’m used to. This was a nice way to witness one version of public education. It is, however, much different than what I am used to. I must admit that, as of now, I don’t really know how I feel about this alternative high school.

It was a great experience, though. And I did witness a lot of positive points to it. Some of these include:

  1. The maturity level of the students. Maybe I have spent too much time in 10th grade, but I can assure you that the students here were some of the most mature that I have witnessed. Although, I am basing this mostly on the two students that were kind enough to give Andy, Li Li, Dr. Stearns and me a tour of SWW and a young freshman boy who we spoke with in the morning. Very mature. I wonder if this is because of their environment. Maybe I would need to see a bigger sample of the school.
  2. The students really seem to be doing things that they care about. One boy I spoke with was legitimately excited to start his senior project, a book of short stories. His enthusiasm was encouraging.
  3. Another thing I noticed was that a lot of the students were able to work through real-life problems together. There was something called… I don’t remember the name… but it was a part of class where everyone talks about a problem that each student is having, either in school or out, and, as a class, everyone discusses possible solutions. Such problems went from: “I’m failing math” to “I was kicked out of my house.” This was remarkable.
  4. I really liked the community that these teachers and students have created. They really were like a big family.

There were many other interesting things that I saw that were “good.” There were, however, many things that I wasn’t particularly impressed with. Up until lunch time, I was particularly intrigued by SWW, and I was enjoying the field trip. It was after lunch that I became skeptical quickly. To be brutally honest, I wasn’t impressed with the critical literacy class. I didn’t see any impressive teaching going on. I wasn’t impressed with the pedagogical skills. Maybe I am just not used to this… Another disturbing thing, which may just be because I am an outsider, was the use of vulgar language–from both student and teacher. I guess it just caught me off-guard.

Overall, though, I really like some of the things that are going on in SWW, and I am really glad that we took this trip. I learned things that I could not have learned in watching a movie or reading a book. I’ll let more of this sink in and will return to it later.

Ray H.



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8 responses to “SWW: Outside of My Comfort Zone?

  1. mandygrl101

    Ray: I also feel like I was outside my comfort zone, but not in an uncomfortable way! I hope that makes sense. Although it was radically different from what I associate with “school”, I liked so many things about this setting and visiting has forced me to consider how I define school.

    I agree with all 4 of your positive points and I think a lot of the ideological aspects of this school could easily be incorporated into public schools. For example, the students in public schools could and should have more say in what they want to learn. I don’t think this involves a total overthrow of a teacher’s plans or even the upstanding cirriculum. Rather, the teacher could incorporate some of the themes or issues that students care about in the course content, and it would give him/her a better idea of what is important to the students and what kind of people they are.

    I am most drawn to the portfolio assessment. I think this is an awesome idea. As ELA teachers, I think this is something that can be done in all of our classrooms, regardless of what our colleagues are doing in history or art class and regardless of what type of school we are in. In OUR classrooms, portfolios can be the main measure of success. I am excited to use portfolios in my future classrooms, and this idea is something I am thrilled to share with my mom.

    In the classroom I observed at SWW, I am excited to report that although all the students were reading the same novel, the teacher made the text based activity interesting. He didn’t explicate A Lesson Before Dying chapter by chapter, rather he took the theme of leadership, which was also the name of the class, and asked how each main character displayed leadership through their interactions with others, through their behavior and through their dialogue. Further, kids got to choose which character they wanted to work on and the projects they were creating were awesome. (they weren’t grouped off by number 1, 2, 3, 4) All were posterboards with creative drawings and explanations. It was impressive.

    Because I was also in Critical Literature, I can relate to some of the pitfalls that Ray also observed. However, as outsiders, maybe we simply can’t understand the particular teaching style that was being used… who knows? Overall, it was a beneficial experience, which forced me to break down some of my pre-existing notions of schools and alternative schools and encouraged me to form new and improved ideals regarding education.


  2. sfarah19

    Mandy, I totally agree with you about the portfolio process. I wish I had a collection of my work through out my high school career, as well as my 4 yrs as an undergrad. This is a great assessment of achievement and something every student can look back on with a real sense of accomplishment. I hope to implement this process in my classroom as well.

    Overall, like Ray, I had mixed feelings about the visit as well. The first class I observed was Teen Issues and was a 2 1/2 hour presentation by a guest speaker on STD’s. Although I find this to be an extremely important issue facing teens, I wish I could have spent this time observing one of the teachers in action.

    I enjoyed the group meeting with the 3 teachers during lunch. They all seem to have different teaching styles but a common sense of what they feel students should be contributing to their own education. This is one idea I feel very strongly about. I think students should be allowed to choose their own courses based on individual interest…and they get to choose what books they want to study! I would have really enjoyed this had I been given the opportunity in high school. Overall, I felt this hour was most informative. I understand why some of us feel uncomfortable with this style of teaching but many of us have been conditioned by public schools for our whole lives. It was nice to experience a school with a more existential outlook on education.

    The 2nd class I observed was a better representation of what might take place in a SWW classroom. I observed Gill’s Art of War class. I thought he had a great energy and appeared to have a genuine connection with his students. He facilitated an interesting discussion on global issues such as terrorism and AIDS. The students seemed very comfortable sharing their ideas with each other and I felt like I could apply some of his teaching strategies in my own classroom in the future.

    I am not sure if I feel completely confident about SWW as a whole being 100% beneficial to educating it’s students.

  3. sfarah19

    Sorry, I’m not sure what happened. It seems my computer posted my blog with out me finishing it! Ahh technology…

    Anyway, like the observations in my placement, there are aspects of the teacher’s pedegogy that I will take with me and some that I won’t. I feel similarly about the SWW. I am happy to have had the experience.


  4. allison

    Like everyone who has already posted, I appreciated this experience. There were certainly methods that I could take from SWW.

    I would like to bring up one of my favorite aspects of SWW. I think the senior project is an excellent opportunity. I’m glad that Ray shared about the one senior’s choice to create a book of short stories for his project. In both high school and college I had heard about such projects. Part of me wished I had had the opportunity to engage in such a project, instead of doing some of the bland work that I had to do. I think teacher guidance is especially necessary for these projects. For example, the teachers said that one student wanted to learn to swim for his senior project. Instead, they made him become a lifeguard. Its important for these projects to be practical.

    I will not go into too many of my reservations about the school right now. I would like to address one thing that Ray brought up, though. I was shocked by the critical lit. class as well. While I see Mandy’s point about the not knowing the whole teaching method, I think there is NO excuse for calling your students scumbags. No excuse. Ever. And she did this twice. I was less than impressed with other aspects of her method, but this was major.

  5. jexter1

    The two strongest points about SWW that I noticed instantly were the maturity of the students (when they misbehaved, it was at a tolerable level) and the unity among the staff and students. I was in awe at how passionate these teachers were and continue to be. Relationships and comfort with the teacher and students are the primary concerns, then the acquisition and strengthening of skills. Grades are a non-issue, which still fascinates me. The students also have their hearts in it. I did not mean a student that does not have plans on furthering their education into college.

  6. sunyprof

    Your post, Ray, and the comments that follow are wonderfully observant and insightful.

    I so enjoyed reading them. I agree w/you on every point made here in both Ray’s post and in the comments.

    We will work w/all kinds of teachers in our careers. Some will inspire us; others will not. We’re all striving to be the first kind. I have more to say about the critical literacy class — somewhat balanced things to say — but I will do it in person. KES

  7. ll123

    The first class Ray H, Andrew, and I attended was the oppression class which didn’t really address the issue. Instead, the teacher was busy with all kinds of grouping activities. However, I did get a chance to ask the classroom teacher several questions that had something to do with her own experience in teaching there. What actually impressed me most were three students who introduced us about their school projects and the reason why they chose to come to this school. They all loved the freedom of choice in lunch time, writing, reading, etc. One student told us that he had about the same amount of homework to do compare to that of another school where he came from. They seemed to me that they sincerely enjoyed being students in a SWW atmosphere. One older student told me that he had made friends with all teachers. The second class I attended was American history class. I really enjoyed the movie that showed the data about AIDS in different countries. To my surprise, India had the largest population of AIDS patients, not as I thought of Africa did. When teacher asked everybody what we were afraid of most, we all answered that question. It was interesting that Raph said that he was afraid that anything could happen at any moment. I responded in my thought that I hoped our trip back to Cortland was safe. On our way back, we were almost hit by a huge truck that drifted into our lane while the two vehicles were side by side. I have to say that we were all scared.

  8. amandayac

    Hi All,

    I was glad to join you all on the trip to SWW on Tuesday and share many of the sentiments you have expressed here. By far, the level of maturity of the students and the strength of the school community are what shined to me in the brief time we were there. Many of the students I had the pleasure of meeting were enthusiastic, articulate, and amiable, leaving me with a positive impression of the pride they have in their school and their community. Though I know it is tough for us to base our opinions of the teachers’ pedagogy and overall classroom climate in the brief space of one meeting, I can say that I saw just as much positive learning as I did distractions. In the morning session I attended, I sat in with a group of students who were participating in a writing workshop that had zero teacher involvement, supervision, or presence at all, really. This was one of the most effective in-class writing groups I’ve witnessed. Though two of the students came to the group with minimal writing completed, the rest of the group encouraged them to share what they wrote and, more importantly, to work together to help them flesh out their ideas and have a better sense of what direction they’d like to take with their writing. The students were attentive of one another, offered insightful comments about each other’s work, and truly seemed to want the whole group to make progress. Sure, a couple of the kids got distracted here and there, but the rest of the group redirected their attention back to the workshop–with no teacher intervention. My only concern for this scenerio was that the teacher was out of the room for some of this time and, consequently, didn’t get to hear the great things the students were talking about.

    But, in that same two-hour class, students spent the first 50 minutes “reading” The New York Times. I’m sure Jerry, who sat in on this class with me, would agree that this was a puzzling time, when at least half of the time (and half or more of the students) seemed to be getting settled or just hanging out, coming and going quite frequently. I’m not sure if this one uniform reading session was a meaningful way to spend almost half of an extended class period.

    I do wish I had a chance to sit in on more classes, but the trip was certainly a valuable experience. Reading about what you all are writing here sure has helped to fill in some of the gaps–and what a range of experiences we all seem to have had!

    Amanda (from 506)

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