Donna Harrington did not take the typical path of becoming a teacher, she didn’t go to college for it. In fact, she started off as a software engineer for Computer Vision, Graphics Horizon, Digital Techniques, and Alphatech Inc., homeschooling her kids for 5 years before becoming a teacher at IACS. Her background in homeschooling can be credited with her teaching style which has been known to be more laid back than the standard high school class.
Harrington started working at IACS in the spring of 2010, but unlike most teachers, did not start her new position as the result of a job hunt. After her kids “fired” her (she joked) from being their home school teacher, she decided to send them to IACS.
“I went to a teacher training conference at iRobot that UMass Lowell put on,” said Harrington, “there was a scholarship that I wanted to apply for, for this school [IACS], because at that point my kids were already going to be coming here. When I talked to Mr. Orpen about applying for the scholarship he said they were looking for someone to teach robotics. He asked me if I wanted to and I started teaching one section of robotics and started picking up classes over the years.” Harrington now teaches Robotics I, Robotics II and yoga in the high school.
After 5 years at IACS, Harrington has developed a unique teaching style. When asked to describe it, she replied: “I think my teaching is largely influenced by homeschooling and teaching in a homeschool Co-op [a group that provides social and educational activities for kids being home schooled]…not the sage on the stage but more of a coaching style”.
Harrington thinks that kids should have the freedom to choose what they work on, stating, “When I’m letting kids chose their own project I’m trying to give them that freedom to chose something that will motivate them.” Harrington says that this freedom is helping kids practice self teaching and that, “Self teaching is super important skill for life so the more I can let kids practice that in my class the better, no matter how much it frustrates them.”
Harrington notes however that there are both upsides and downsides to her teaching methods, “With the freedom that they have in here, sometimes they really take it far,” also adding “It’s hard to deal with the larger class sizes that we are having, I don’t get a chance to check in with each child during the class.”
When asked if she thought her teaching style was more effective than a traditional learning style she responded thus, “Do I think it’s more effective? It depends on the kid…there are a lot of students who are very comfortable with ‘I’ll sit here, I’ll take notes’ and sometimes my lack of structure causes them great insecurity or resentment.”
When it comes down to it, Harrington just wants the kids to have fun learning, saying, “I learned the most when I was having fun…I like keeping kids active, I like that energy, the less I stand up there, the better…hands on, like building stuff, talking, collaborating, I love that.”