Earlier in October I attended a conference about self-directed learning and unschooling, hosted by an unschooling community organisation called ‘Growing Minds’. I didn’t know that such a community existed in South Africa until about 6 months ago, when I first saw the conference announcement on Facebook. I had read somewhere that Elon Musk was unschooling his children and hadn’t given the idea much further thought except to label it ‘probably elitist’. And so I was surprised and intrigued to find it working as a grassroots, community-oriented movement here in South Africa.
I was also hooked by the theme of the conference, which was ‘unschooling as decolonisation’. I decided to attend, with a mind to listen, mostly, and maybe ask some questions. I was ready to feel inspired, but also possibly alienated.
Making this decision was one of the main factors that spurred me into re-working Encounteract and start writing more about my teaching and learning experiences. I knew I’d probably meet a lot of people who disagree fundamentally with the idea of school and its premise of providing education. I knew that some would have views of varying intensity and myopia and that talk about reform in mainstream schools might not be up for discussion. I wasn’t sure where the decolonial conversation would really go – or what kind of room it would really be given. I wasn’t sure where or how I would fit in, or even exactly what my stance was. I have often told people that I am a school teacher who ‘doesn’t trust schools’ but I am also hesitant to condemn schooling completely, because really it is a term that encompasses many possible interpretations both good and evil. Writing was my go-to option for starting to process these ideas and feelings, to start articulating my identity as a teacher (a learning teacher) and defining what felt important.
I always planned to write some reflections on the conference, but I am still not sure how they are going to emerge. Without a doubt, I am glad that I went, but I am also aware that the experience left me troubled about things that I didn’t know I needed to feel troubled about. I went in with a lot of questions, and I just left with more.
And so I haven’t exactly been churning out essays. Instead, I got back to my classroom, spent two exhausted days yelling at kids and tearing my hair out and feeling like a bad teacher. Good Going, Miss Muller.
What I have realised is that I want to at least test the waters of emergent curriculum and child-led learning, especially while I still have a classroom for 6 weeks. Soon the year will be over and I will be saying goodbye to my students for good. Already they have accomplished more than I really expected them to (because hey! this is all still pretty new to me and I didn’t know what to expect or what was possible when the year started). Now I’m wondering, what would happen if I cracked open the core structure of our school day and started introducing more freedom and choices to the students? Already they have unanimously decided that the school day should start with everyone grabbing a book from the book box and reading on the carpet. Goodbye registration period, we don’t miss it! What else will they show me?
To make things more interesting/ complicated, the in-coming Grade 1 teacher is shadowing me for the rest of the term, and I am responsible for guiding her as much as possible to take over my class. Yikes, truly! I don’t feel like an expert, or even proficient. In fact, I feel a bit like an eccentric inventor who is guessing half the time. But I am still excited to retrace my steps with her, to remember some of the highlights of the year,but also the mistakes, all the things I had to do over again or that really, shoulda-could’ve worked, but didn’t - or that shouldn’t have worked, but did!
With all these muddles of puddles to reflect on (in?) Encounteract is set up either to be neglected or besieged by my attentions. Read more about my teaching (and coping!) strategies or check out my most recent posts.
A daunted but determined teacher irons out the creases of her brain.