It’s funny being on both sides of the coin. I think I can envision what bi-racial people feel like caught between two distinctly different groups of people; except I’m in a group all by myself most of the time. As a former public school teacher of 20+ years who attended Catholic school all her life and sent her kids to private school prior to homeschooling, I’ve seen most of the education world and it’s a mass of bureaucracy…..with most of it totally missing the point of learning.
I like the idea of school.Scratch that.
I like the idea of learning with others.
At the age of 10, I knew I was going to be a teacher. I mean, c’mon, Spelling bees with chocolate bars as prizes (yes, I won most of them that year), making forts in the classroom to visit when our work was complete, playing on the playground with my friends, and that cool paper mache’ dinosaur we made together in class (that I won and got to take home). I ws really interested in dinosaurs, excelled in Spelling, loved building things, and had some great friends. Yep! That’s what school is all about. That was my 4th grade experience; or at least mostly all I remember about it. I know, sounds idyllic; doesn’t it? That was my dream. I just had to get through the next 12 years to reach for it in my own classroom.
Boy was I in for a shock.
After years of fighting the system, trying to reform the system, blending in with the system, only to realize that I was becoming one of them…ugh…it was heartbreaking. There were good years where I was pretty much left alone to my own devices and by the time I was starting to get the hang of real learning, testing mandates galore were ushered in and held over us in the form of weekly (if not daily) threats. My principal at the time tried to alleviate our concerns and give us freedom to teach, but he could only do so much. The stripping of curiosity, awe, excitement, and interest was on its way out.
Leaving education was like leaving my child. Sounds a bit melodramatic I know, but learning was my baby long before I ever had a child. I walked out depleted, lost, and wondering what was left in life.
Though I left fully prepared to take a year or so off and ease back into a school that fit my need for autonomy and creativity, it didn’t happen.
Homeschooling was my savior.
My son and I keep pretty much to ourselves (yes, the classic unsocialized bunch that we are), but we like it that way. We like being able to go and do what we want pretty much when we want. The freedom side of our life is unbelievable! The real payoff is that we’re learning on our own terms.
My years in a classroom were a foundation for how organized learning happens, but I’m living the education dream with my own child. He’s not the type of kid you can hand a worksheet to who will happily color within the lines. He’s the rebel side of his mom and yes, it’s challenging; but oh, so fulfilling! We’re still figuring things out, but isn’t everybody? Every once in awhile, I get nervous when he “colors outside the lines”, but most of the time if I take a moment to chill out, I see how much real learning is happening. Learning isn’t about book work. It’s about finding meaning in everything you do.
That’s one of the gripes I have about homeschoolers. As a beginning teacher, I stuck to the book, the worksheets, and the lesson plans. I didn’t know what to do and how to get started. But, textbooks take too long, are uninteresting, long-winded, and don’t approach learning from the perception of a child. Worksheets, well, uh…..do I really have to explain? Lesson plans are great to get you focused on a goal, but if you’re not prepared to deviate, scrap those too. You’ll get more done that way.
After several years, all of these “teacher tools” became more and more rare in my classroom. I knew where the misconceptions were since I’d seen them over and over and I had ways to cut them off before they happened or found ways to work around them or nix them from the learning. Unfortunately, I see many homeschooling families follow the same pattern with one additional caveat- by the time they figure out they don’t need a boxed curriculum, their kids will be grown. As a homeschooling family, you have so many resources available to you on your own timetable with very few limitations; take advantage of those. Put the boring curriculum back on the shelf. Opt for games, field trips, biographies, science videos, and uniqueness instead.
That’s where I’ve got an edge. I’ve lived both sides and learned.
Another gripe about homeschoolers is that many lack the certainty that they’re doing a good job. I think most of it stems from lack of experience in teaching. I know I felt the same way as a beginning teacher. The big difference was that I had more and more kids every year to experiment with and refine my skills. While most homeschoolers are fairly confident that they know their own children better than any school system does (which should be true for all families), they simply don’t have the confidence through experience. Unless you’re doing the homeschooling thing with 6 or more kids over the span of several years, your skills will be similar to a younger teacher; you know kids but lack the nuances of learning.
That being said, you can certainly do a good job teaching your child as a homeschooler (or as I prefer, guiding your child into learning). It’s more about getting to know your own child and his approaches to learning than anything else. The content will come easier as you know what works (and what doesn’t) with your child. It’s a constant revision process with learning and it goes hand-in-hand with those parenting skills. The one advantage classroom teachers have throughout it all is experience; not the piece of paper. Teachers get to know different kinds of kids and which approaches work with those kinds of kids. I’ve taught literally thousands of kids and I’ve learned so much about learning from them, but knowing my own child and helping him discover the learning around him is even more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. I guess that’s why so many teachers who leave the system are choosing to homeschool themselves!
Choosing sides has to be my biggest gripe with homeschoolers. Why does it have to be us against them? The learning is the most important issue; not where, when, or how. I know some teachers look down on homeschoolers too; as unprepared and incompetent (mostly young teachers from my experience). Teaching looks so easy that many homeschoolers wonder why there are problems in schools. Mostly, it’s not the teachers; it’s more often the bureaucracy that creates the learning issues, social issues, and stress issues. – it’s the system that they’re forced to mold to. Those moments of quiet talks with a child, classroom talks about friendship, and days where lessons need to be extended or reworked don’t happen because everything at school is a constant push. Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, you don’t really know the whole story. I’ve seen both sides. I’ve witnessed fantastic classrooms and fantastic homeschooling, but I’ve also seen the sad side of both. The good news is that both sides work at times and both are comprised of people who are dedicating their lives for the education of children.
Here’s the rub. I don’t think either approach is poor in conceptualization. They both have great ideas! School systems have too much oversight, bureaucracy, and accountability. They don’t embrace the individuality, freedom, curiosity, and awe of learning. They can’t. There’s a test coming up and the clock is ticking. On the other hand, the camaraderie, resources, and group discussions can be extremely valuable.
Homeschoolers get that life happens. Some days are fantastically productive (even more so than in a classroom), but some days no book learning is going to happen (just like schools though they won’t admit it). Where many homeschoolers fall short is that they try to mimic traditional schools. They sometimes forget the individuality, freedom, curiosity, and awe because the curriculum they bought doesn’t include it. How could it? It doesn’t know the uniqueness of your child.
Both schools and homeschoolers sometimes forget that learning time management, perseverance, handling frustrations and successes, asking questions, making decisions, analyzing evidence, thinking deeply about problems, planning, and exploration are both life and academic skills that tend to get lost along the way. Those days when there’s little academic learning are usually opportunities for life skills. Don’t discount those. They make us who we are even more than the academics. Treasure those moments.
Homeschoolers: Stop acting like school at home!
Schools are headed for implosion. I see it coming in the next 10 years unless new concepts in schooling overtake the mainstream. Teachers and students are miserable and mandates are forcing out teachers while students are stuck. Homeschooling is growing, but if homeschooling is going to be schooling at home, is it worth the investment? So many people start out homeschooling and don’t receive the support they need to be successful and end up sending their kids back to the school they left in defeat. That’s depressing. Homeschoolers have an opportunity that so many are squelching. Appreciate that opportunity. Embrace it.
Trust your instincts, scrap that boxed curricula (or at least be willing to throw the worksheets out the window 90% of the time), think about your purpose for learning, and learn more yourself.
I’m here if you ever need an ear.