Alternative Learning System is a project only for those willing to throw themselves in at the deep end.
On his first day on placement, with no prior teaching experience, 19-year-old Thad Pinakiewicz was placed in front of a classroom full of twenty-three, wide-eyed adult students, charged with teaching them an entire curriculum, from world religion to the periodic table. How did he fare?
VFV has only recently started offering this project in Palo, Thad is the first volunteer to take on the challenge. The objective is for each student to pass a basic equivalency exam, which will certify that they have acquired the knowledge and skills needed to graduate at high school level. This encompasses all subject areas.
This places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the volunteer, who has to instantly plan and execute a broad range of subjects to suit different abilities. “The bottom line is, as a teacher, you learn best by doing. This is exactly what you get out of this project, and why you learn so fast from it.”
Thad’s current class encompasses students aged fifteen to forty. How does he feel about teaching a class of people on the whole, much older than him? “Working with older students also has its advantages, notably that they really want to learn. They’ve all made a conscious decision to take this class, and all want to pass the final equivalency exam, so it’s a very different atmosphere from the primary school where I also volunteer”.
They say that teaching is a profession in which you never stop learning, and that certainly applies to this situation, where the volunteer has to have a good grasp of an entire curriculum of different subjects. Was it hard to teach yourself such diverse topics to a high standard? “Funnily enough, the hardest one was English grammar! Turns out, being a native English speaker doesn’t necessarily mean you I break down and explain future perfect conjugations!”
As ever, VFV projects are there for the volunteer to make what they will of. Thad is currently taking on extra responsibilities in his project, including digitizing all the files of his current students. “ALS provides a great opportunity for students who, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to complete high school. However, still, currently about half of the students who sit the exam each time are failing. At the moment, we have 23 student files on paper, with information on how they’re progressing through each of the modules, but if we had a cohesive digital version of this, it would allow us to keep track much more effectively on the modules each student has taken, were they’re struggling and were they’re excelling. It will make continuity for future volunteers much easier”.
Creating and refining personal goals and ambitions that go beyond the curriculum is what VFV is, in many ways, all about. Thad is also making guides for future volunteers. “I think it will be really useful for people who do this project after me to have guidelines written to them, from the absolute basics. It’ll explain the main differences they’ll encounter here from the west, tell them what to expect and how to approach the project”.
Demanding energy, persistence and more than a little imagination, the ALS project is certainly one for the brave. However – as anyone who has tried it will tell you – teaching can be one of the most rewarding career choices of all. As Thad notes “You absolutely feel that you’re doing something worthwhile. You can actually see yourself affect directly the quality of life of the people around you – how often can you honestly say that on a day-to-day?”
Kamila Kocialkowska, latest Media Intern for Volunteer for the Visayans writes about the experiences of fellow volunteers working in various VFV projects. In this article, Kamila talks about Thaddeus Pinakiewicz, a volunteer from the United States of America who has recently worked as teacher at the Alternative Learning System for out-of-school youth and Cangumbang Primary School, both located in Palo, Leyte, Philippines.