Just slowly lost track, I guess.
Jim and Billy were both teachers in the Self-Directed Learning Center at Garden City High School back in the late ’70s. (And yes, I am that old.) The SLDC was one of those touchy-feely education experiments during the 1970s that went out of style and now, in the form of charter and public schools such as Erie High School, are becoming popular again.
The GCHS 1970s version of SDLC encouraged and supported students who wanted to design their own learning. I got my high school American History credit by researching and documenting the history of Finney County, Kansas while tying that history to the larger national historical narrative. Earned my senior government credit while campaigning for the 1978 Kansas gubernatorial candidate, John Carlin, and some of my science credit by designing a deep ocean underwater science lab.
Considering what was going on in the rest of the building – straight rows of desks, lecture, worksheets, weekly tests and other forms of educational torture – I’m amazed that SDLC lasted as long as it did. It was pretty much out there on the edge of educational research.
But what made it successful was plain to me even back then. Jim Tomayko and Billy Landes.
It’s become even more apparent in 2009.
Of course, the whole idea of basically doing whatever we wanted made the program attractive to us as students. But once we were in, we discovered something else. This wasn’t gonna be easy. Sure, we were able to create our own topics but we also had to justify them, clarify them, revise them, start them over from scratch and, eventually, actually finish them.
Not anything like school. More like real life.
And Tomayko and Landes were always there. Pushing and encouraging us to be better. Questioning us about our methods and conclusions. There was always a way to make our work better. Continuous effort and improvement was the message. Not because any of this stuff was ever on a state assessment but because it made us better students and better people.
So . . . okay, nice story.
Teachers can make a huge difference in learning. It sometimes easy to forget that and instead focus on all the wrong things.
We need to always remember to focus our efforts as teachers on doing what’s best for kids, not just working to find ways to raise test scores.
This also means not just focusing on students but also remembering our own professional development as teachers. Not just as a way to amass more PDC points so that we move along the salary schedule but because it makes as better teachers and better people.
That’s just one of the lessons I’m taking away from the 1970s.
Good night, Mr. Tomayko and Mrs. Landes, wherever you are.
And . . . thanks.