on homeschooling and teaching credentials

I’ve had a lovely correspondence with a new blog-friend, Melissa of WhatKnot. (Do stop by her blog and take in her beautiful photos of her kids and her crafts, and her charming way with words.) In an exchange of emails about homeschooling, Melissa pointed out that many people who homeschool (including me) seem to have a background in teaching. She wondered about homeschooling without such a background.

I’ve often said that my background as a teacher has been as much a hindrance as a help to me as a homeschooler. And I mean that.

As a former teacher, I came into homeschooling confident that I could do it. But I also had a whole slew of preconceptions.

Consider just a sampling of what teaching taught me:

  • Students do whatever you ask them to do. (And if they don’t, they’re a discipline problem that you’ll need to attend to.)
  • Teachers do the lesson planning.
  • You should plan lessons carefully ahead of time, and stick to the plan on the page, or you’ll get behind.
  • Students should cover most subjects most days.
  • Students should have written records of what they’re learning, otherwise you can’t be sure they’re learning.
  • Kids learn how to read in first grade, they work on spelling in second grade, learn cursive and multiplication in third grade…

I could go on. Now reread that list and consider how it might work in a homeschool environment. It might work fine if you have a very obedient child who follows your every instruction. I, however, did not. My first child has always had a very strong sense of self and a very strong voice to proclaim it. He would never do anything simply because I told him to; instead he’s questioned everything. Why do we have to read this book if I don’t like it? Why do I have to stop drawing to do science? Why should I write down my thinking on that math problem if I can just tell you how I did it?

Chris and I like to say that H’s motto should be “What’s the point of that?”

Why indeed? I had to give him answers, which made me think through his whys. Often I realized I was asking him to do things simply because it was how I’d done it in the classroom. I wanted him to be able to do what I knew school kids did. That seemed reason enough for me, but it wasn’t good enough for H. Why, why, why he argued. Oh, we had battles, I can tell you that. He argued; I was stubborn. I was a professional after all! But slowly (very slowly!) I saw that when I forced H to do something, he didn’t learn much. Except to despise whatever I was trying to teach.

Slowly I learned to listen, to consider, to shake off many of my teacher-ish beliefs. I learned to focus on helping H learn in ways that were meaningful to him.

Disobedient kids can be a blessing. (And I got three of them!) Sometimes I wonder which of us has learned more.

Of course, any parent who has spent time in a classroom may share many of my preconceptions about learning and education. But I’d argue that it’s probably harder for those of us with a background in education to shake those notions. After all, we’ve been trained to believe them.

If you don’t have that training you’ll probably have an easier time easing into homeschooling, just continuing what you’ve done with your kids since birth: pay attention to their needs and do your best to meet them.

Being a teacher did have some positive effects on my role as a homeschooling parent. More on that in my next post…

(Yes, I do still keep a teacher’s plan book. But rather than using it to plan lessons ahead of time, I record instead what the kids have done after the fact. Including all the wonderful learning they do on their own. Being able to look through the book is always encouraging when I start to worry that we’re not doing enough. Plus, record-keeping is one teacher-y part of me that I just can’t shake.)

6 comments… add one
  • stefaneener Oct 23, 2008 @ 11:41

    Record-keeping is a gift you give to your children in the future. It may also make you feel better on those bad weeks, but still.

    Your planfulness seems to be a perfect mix of structure and freedom; your children are blessed by you. No matter what they might say at any given moment.

    And not being a teacher helps sometimes and doesn’t others, as I can attest. So tell all your friends that nothing is The Answer and we all do the best we can.

    I’m interviewing a housecleaning service today, speaking of which. I’m just Giving Up. So there. I’ll turn in my homeschooler card later.

  • Tara Reese Oct 23, 2008 @ 20:04

    Hello Patricia…
    It was lovely to meet you, if only for a second today… and I’m so glad that I remembered your website’s name.
    I also wanted to tell you that a friend actually mailed me (in an envelope and everything, not an email!) your Mothering article this summer and it was really uplifting to me during the rather difficult day that I received it… and it’s found a home stashed inside one of the books that I look at when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
    I’d love to get together- my son Finn is also six… maybe our boys could create some craziness!

  • melissa s. Oct 23, 2008 @ 20:44

    thank you for taking the time to explore this subject and share your feelings. As I was reading this, I realized that those same bulleted “rules” are very much ingrained in my own educational experience, except from a student’s perspective. So I often feel like I need to ‘unlearn’ those same preconceptions as well. The funny thing is, when the kids and I are exploring an interest or reading a book or figuring out a problem, those “rules” are the farthest thing from my mind and just going whereever the question takes us feels very natural and (dare I say) FUN!

    I could write a whole bunch more, but will wait to do so after your next post 🙂

  • patricia Oct 27, 2008 @ 7:30

    Lots of great dialogue here–whoopee!

    I think Stefaneener is so right about there being no easy answer with homeschooling–we just do the best we can with what we have. And that can constantly shift! Melissa pretty much has it figured out though: if you’re having fun learning with your kids, you’re moving in the right direction.

    Homeschooling sometimes seems to be equal parts learning and unlearning. The cool thing about the unlearning is that our kids usually get to be the teachers! 🙂

    (I wrote back to Tara offline–always great to meet new homeschoolers!)

  • Tina Brown Apr 18, 2014 @ 6:42

    I know that this post is very old, but I thought I would respond to it anyway. I was a classroom teacher before having children. When people find out that I homeschool and that I was a classroom teacher, they say, “Oh, that makes sense…you must have so much more experience. Of course, you are qualified”

    Sometimes, when I don’t’ want to continue the conversation any further, I let them believe that in order to homeschool effectively, being a classroom teacher is a requirement. Sometimes, people don’t want me to rock their boat. They don’t want to feel guilty about their choices. Other times, I say, “You know what, being a teacher was actually a hindrance.” Sometimes they want to know why it was a hindrance and I tell them.

    Yes, I can manage a classroom, discipline children when they are not towing the line and plan lesson plans. When I put on my teacher voice, my children say (with frustration), “Mamma, don’t use that voice!!!”

    When I use my “teacher voice” my children know that I am not being authentic. I think that if they wanted a teacher, they would go to school. Instead, they would rather have their mamma.

    I also have a girl, that will not do anything that I ask her without a fight, so I have to choose my battles wisely. With the battles that I don’t choose, I have have to model good behavior and tell her why it is important to grow intellectually. Right now she is studying harp, Greek and legos. What classroom learns that?

    • patricia Apr 18, 2014 @ 10:09

      I love it when people respond to old posts, Tina! It keeps them alive.

      I particularly appreciate this part of your comment: “When I use my ‘teacher voice’ my children know that I am not being authentic. I think that if they wanted a teacher, they would go to school. Instead, they would rather have their mamma.”

      Isn’t it interesting that our kids don’t want us to teach them–and they pick up immediately when we try? All three of my kids have reacted that way when I slip into teaching mode. I suppose they sense that they learn from us naturally, and they don’t want us to force it on them. They want to learn in their own way, on their own terms. Which is how all kids would probably prefer to learn, if they had that freedom.

      Bring on the harp, Greek and Legos!

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