Explaining my teaching background to those who have existed solely within the K-12 atmosphere has always been something of a fruitless pursuit. Getting them to accept me as a real teacher with real teaching experience was pretty much a lost cause in Texas. (Thank goodness Washington state is a bit more open-minded on the matter!)
What is this troubling, invalid background? Well, in brief, I specialize in informal education, curriculum development, and hands-on experience. Somehow, informal education is considered related to “formal” education about the same way curriculum development is considered related to instructional design, and hands-on learning is that newfangled Montessori concept now favored by most preschools, kindergartens, and math classrooms. These are the areas of education that just really get me out of bed in the morning.
I can defend the last two fairly easily. They have a concreteness to them. Defending informal education has been the real struggle, though. It’s an abstract concept that means so many things to so many people. For many, it’s an unstructured situation where learning may or may not occur accidentally. To me, the one who made it her life for several years, it’s neither. It’s a carefully thought out encounter where the learner will walk away with something useful. It’s not always what I intend them to walk away with, but they will indeed walk away with some sort of new knowledge.
Informal education can take place just about anywhere, be conducted by anyone knowledgeable on the available topic, and be used with any age group. It often requires a bit of initiative, creativity, and storytelling to make the encounter compelling.