go at your own pace

My job right now reminds me a lot of third grade.

In third grade, I went to a Christian school that was organized thusly: elementary school in one room; middle and high school in another. Long tables lined the walls, and we all sat at them, facing the wall, with dividers between each of us — in sort of mini-cubicles. You might wonder how we could see the teacher this way, but that wasn’t a problem because there really were no teachers. There were aids and maybe a head teacher-kind of person in charge (oh, I see from the Web site, these are called Learning Center Supervisors). We weren’t allowed to look around, but if we had a question, we could put this little American flag in a holder above our heads (not at all unlike a mailbox flag).

I’m not sure what questions the aids could have answered though. They didn’t really teach us anything. The entire curriculum was the ACE program (Accelerated Christian Education), which is apparently still around today. All of our education came from PACEs, which were workbooks that we read. We had to complete a certain number of workbooks for each subject (history, math, science, whatever) each quarter. At various points in each workbook, you had to take a quiz. You then raised your flag and when given permission, would go to the grading station and grade your quiz against the answer key.

No, I am totally serious. We taught ourselves by reading the workbooks and then we graded our own tests.

I did awesome at this school. I always was an overachiever and this setup gave me the perfect opportunity. It’s not that I was self-motivated and wanted to better myself or anything crazy like that. I wanted everyone around me to think I was smart, wonderful, and perfect. It was all about validation. You could do as many PACEs as you wanted. In two years, I was a grade ahead!

This environment didn’t work so well for my stepsister. It’s not that she wasn’t as smart as I was, she just didn’t care as much what people thought of her. No one was making her do a bunch of work? Well, then she wasn’t going to. The other problem was this was not at all her learning style. And what do you do if you get stuck and need some help? Turn to the Learning Center Supervisor?

I was always getting these awards for most PACEs completed and crap like that, but that school was also the only school where I ever got into trouble — spanked with a wooden paddle kind of trouble. Did I mention the paddle had holes in it? It was all because we had to grade our own tests. Damn tests. Damn math. I was learning long multiplication and long division. Row after row of numbers. It never ended. I would be so relieved when I finished a quiz. But then I still had to grade it. More row after row of numbers. I would compare my answers to the key and eventually, my eyes would just glaze over. Surely I got them all right. Right? I would run out of patience and just give myself 100%.

I didn’t intend to cheat. It’s not that at all. I was just so bored. I didn’t want to grade my test anymore. Well, apparently someone actually looked at the quizzes, although if they did, I don’t know why they didn’t just grade them in the first place rather than making us do it. They saw I gave myself 100% even though I had answers wrong (apparently). So, I got a warning, demerits, something.

And then after the next workbook section, I had another math quiz. You would think that I would have learned from the first time, but seriously, so many numbers! So freaking boring.

I got a lot more demerits.

I think it was the third time they caught me that I was finally sent to the principal’s office for the spanking. I cried. Before it even happened, I mean. I was never in trouble! Not me! The idea that people might think I was no longer perfect was worse than the actual punishment. That part only stung for a minute.

Near the end of fourth grade, we moved again, and my parents got the brilliant idea of home schooling. We moved so much anyway, why deal with school! So, we kept getting PACEs from the school, and sent them in when we finished them. For some reason, this only lasted until the end of fifth grade. I think my mom got tired of trying to convince my sisters to do their work. The suckiest part was that when I went back to public school in sixth grade, I basically had to sit through the stuff I had already learned, since I had gotten a year ahead.

It’s kind of amazing to me that this program is still around. I mean, I guess it works a bit like distance learning, or online tutorials, and that style of learning works great for me. But you completely miss out on classroom interaction — both with the teacher and other students. You can’t ask questions or get clarification or get help if you just don’t understand the material. Your only source of information is the workbook. One of the subjects in the core curriculum is apparently creative writing. How does that work exactly?

Anyway, my job right now doesn’t feature a mini-cubicle and I don’t have to raise my flag to ask to go to the bathroom, but it is very work-at-your-own-pace. I take a look at all the projects out there, find something that is interesting to me and then work on it. I research technologies and learn about them on my own and then I come up with the best ways to document them for the target audience. If I needed supervision or guided tasks, I would never be able to do this job.

So, I guess my experiences in third grade have really paid off. Well, not that part where I was on the basketball team. I still suck at sports.

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