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After nearly a decade in traditional schools, I never thought I’d study again – until I found a small school focused on experiential education and love

I thought I would never go back to teaching because of the current turbulent climate. I’ve been teaching for about a decade, took some time to raise my kids, and then decided to try to be an assistant professor. Then the epidemic hit, so I decided to homeschool my kids for a year. And at that time, education – radically transformed.

During the pandemic, teachers have come under even more pressure due to the difficulty of teaching via video. Critical race theory, taught primarily in law schools, entered the discourse, and some parents became vocal (and often angry) about what their children were learning — despite the fact that the curriculum had not changed.

Faults in the education system were also revealed. Teachers are often micromanaged, for example, depending on the building or district officials.

After a year of teaching during the pandemic, my teacher friends were exhausted and felt disrespected and exhausted. So instead of trying to re-enter education, I decided to try to put more effort into my independent career and teach a few classes at a local community college in the Extended Education Program, where I was mainly teaching retirees.

Everything changed when I came across an experimental school

But after scrolling through social media, I noticed an advertisement for a job for an education professional at a local high school located in the woods along the shores of Lake Michigan. The place was idyllic. I knew the school had a small student population and that the curriculum was focused on experiential learning and love.

So I followed my intuition and went for it. In a quick two-day shift, I was offered the job. Instead of dread, my enthusiasm grew. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy because there was no teaching job, but I had a feeling I was going to help make a difference in children’s lives – and it wouldn’t just happen within the brick-and-mortar school walls.

At Leelanau School, you’ll find our students in wading clothes and observing the sticky population of the river that flows through campus, rather than learning biology strictly from a book. Students create land art with sticks, rocks, moss, and more. They collect honey from hives, mountain bike through the trails, bake cookies to learn about math, read by the outdoor bonfires, go fishing, and more.

We all use nature to feel better

In my class, when I find students having a particularly difficult day, it is not usual to just take walks on the beach or in the woods. This allows all of us, even me, to take deep breaths, gather ourselves, and reset ourselves.

When I say the school focuses on experiential education and love, we start our mornings by enjoying a meal together as a community. We give positive shouts to students and faculty alike, and then do some sort of physical activity in the morning to energize us for the next day.

It’s not perfect, of course. When you get a group of teens together, things are bound to go awry. But it is this love that makes us go through it together.

As a teacher, it is refreshing to see my students experience their education rather than feel like passive observers. I am sure they will remember what they learned, because their hands were involved in it.

And with love and mutual respect mixed with these experiences, I’m willing to bet they will forever touch their hearts.

Smith

Tricare west is a global news publication that tells the stories you want to know.

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