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What to Know About Teaching at an Alternative School

An alternative school is typically known for helping students that are considered at risk for not graduating from school. They may not have enough credits due to failing grades or time missed. Some of the students may be pregnant or raising young children. Whatever the case may be, alternative schools provide them with an opportunity to complete their high school education and earn a diploma.

For teachers, alternative schools pose a different challenge from that of other types of schools. If you’re thinking about teaching at an alternative school, here are 4 things that you should know.

Don’t Make Assumptions!

Alternative schools and the people who attend them and teach at them often get a bad reputation. People assume that the students are troublemakers who don’t want to learn and won’t have the motivation to complete their work. People assume the teachers work there as a punishment or because they can’t find work anywhere else. In reality, the teachers want to be there. They know that they can truly make a difference in their students’ lives, and they work hard to help their students carve out a better future for themselves.

The students who attend alternative schools understand that this could be their last chance at earning a high school diploma, and they’re willing to put in the work to do so. Overall, the atmosphere is very different than a public or private high school.

Create a Safe Environment

Although the students want to be there and they’re willing to put in the work, many of them come from an environment that has left them wary of trusting people in authority. They want and need to participate in order to better understand the concepts they’re learning, but they need to feel comfortable first. They need to feel respected and accepted by other students, staff, and teachers.

As teachers, we need to create a climate for success where students don’t feel judged and are willing to reach out and help one another. One way to do this is to celebrate their personal and educational goals and find ways to support one another in hard times.

Provide Guidance and Advice

Many students in alternative schools have difficult home lives. Some are homeless. Others are the sole caretakers of younger siblings. Some of the girls are pregnant and worried about becoming a single mother and providing a good life for their child.

These students want to be treated like adults, but they still need adults to provide them with guidance and advice. They don’t need you to be a friend; they just need an adult who cares about them.

The students may have problems that need to be addressed before they can focus on their education. Listen to them. It would also be helpful to complete training on how to listen and advise your students.

Develop Patience

You know students learn at different speeds and in different ways. In alternative schools, it takes patience and creativity to figure out how to reach each student. The smaller group settings help, but students still require extra assistance from you to learn the information. Don’t give up! Continue to work with each student until they understand the material.

If you’re considering a position at an alternative school, reach out to teachers that currently work at ones in your area. Find out why they chose to work at these schools and what they do differently to reach their students. Teaching at an alternative school poses many challenges, but it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience for teachers who are willing and ready to help their students succeed.

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2 Responses to What to Know About Teaching at an Alternative School

  1. Leslie Reed April 5, 2017 at 11:37 AM #

    I substitute at an Alternative School in Maine and I absolutely love it. It’s for the “bleeding heart” teachers, so if you’re a strict-rule-loving person with high achievement standards, I would not recommend it. The school is based on give and take with trust and respect. Be vulnerable will the kids and I’ve notice how much more they will give in return.

    Now that I subbed there I know when I get my teaching degree I want to end up at an Alternative School. The lessons are more creative and you create a community of lifelong learners, not just students who memorized names and dates but forget them when they walk out of HS doors.

    • Jamie Goodwin
      Jamie Goodwin April 5, 2017 at 11:54 AM #

      Thank you for sharing, Leslie! This is great information about alternative schools. I’m sure you’re making a great difference in the lives of the students that you work with!

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