One of the things I hear most often when I am chatting with people and they find out we homeschool is “wow, I don’t think I could do that, but I guess it would be easier for you since you were already a teacher.”
I don’t have anything to say about who can and can’t do this homeschool thing- the choice is so big and personal, and really most days I wonder if I can do it either. But of the things that make this job easier, my training as a teacher would not be among them.
(I would currently count chocolate, texts to my wonderful husband for reassurance, long deep breaths while pretending to be digging through the supply basket, and gallons of hot tea.)
It’s easy to see why people would assume that the same skills and knowledge would be at play whether teaching in a classroom or in your own living room, but I am regularly surprised at how little the two skill sets overlap. Not only are the two worlds so vastly different as to be hardly comparable, but my training as a teacher can actually hinder my work as a homeschool parent if I am not mindful of how different those worlds are.
This is how my teacher-self sometimes trips me up:
1. Expecting my kids to act the way kids do in a classroom:
Now I know kids can be uncooperative in school too, but generally, in a classroom setting kids behave in a certain way. They sit in desks. They do the work they are told to do without much fuss. They tend to get dressed and brush their hair before attending class. My kids? Not so much.
I do best as a homeschool mom when I stop myself from imagining how they would be acting if they too were sitting in a classroom of their peers all day. After all, one of the reasons they are home is so they don’t have to sit in a classroom of their peers all day. Plus, I’m sure most of their peers would do their math in their PJ’s while hanging upside down off the couch too if they could.
2. Lesson planning like my kids are a public school:
Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about those handy lesson planning sheets we were given in university- the ones with boxes to write in the topic, the objective, the activity, the assessment. Oh how tidy and logical and orderly they were!
Homeschooling- our homeschooling anyway- is just so much messier than that. It is just a great big organic, chaotic, learning extravaganza over here. And though we have objectives, and cover topics and and do all sorts of activities, it is rarely possible to write it all up on one tidy sheet of paper. When I accept this and don’t try and plan out lessons the way I was taught to do in school, things go so much better.
3. Looking for learning in all the wrong places:
In our homeschool there are no pop quizzes. There are no quizzes at all unless someone wants one (so far, no one has wanted one.) We don’t really do a whole lot that could be graded through the usual means.
I know my kids are learning. They are growing and blossoming before my eyes. Their work improves every day. They can talk endlessly about the subjects that interest them and are constantly involved in their own projects and experiments and research. In my heart I know this is good and right.
But sometimes? Sometimes I just want some test results. I want to hand them a quiz on the water cycle or fractions or the history of ninjas and have them prove that they learned what it seems they have learned. I don’t really want that, but the teacher in me kind of does.
3. Trying to manage my kids like they are students in a classroom:
Teachers are amazing. They have the expertise to take a great big room of children and not only keep them semi-quiet and orderly, but actually teach them things. It is a remarkable thing. But the tools and skills needed for teaching and managing a large group of children all the same age are really quite different from those needed to teach a house full of siblings of different ages learning different things.
I don’t have recess bells or hall passes or rules about raising one’s hand to speak. These are essential when you have 30 kids, but they are sort of ridiculous when you have three. While I have never demanded a hall pass, I do find myself getting in a classroom-ish mindset sometimes. I want order! I want a schedule! I want my kids to stop expecting to be consulted on the curriculum for heaven sake, and just do it because I told them to!
But of course these are the very reason I am choosing to be home with my kids- so that they can take an active role in their learning and to have time to engage with the world on their terms. So that they don’t need to wait for everyone to line up before they can learn that thing they wanted to learn. So that they can run outside and play when the sun is out, and cozy up in front of the fire with a good book when it is not.
It’s not that we don’t have a routine or a plan- we do- but we are all happier when I am flexible and open to where the learning is taking us instead of trying to micro-manage their learning for them.
of course, there are a few things that I learned in my teacher-life that do apply to my homeschooling life.
I learned in the fine art of fielding 5000 questions at once which comes in very handy with my own kids (though somehow it is harder to manage the same patient demeanor I had with other people’s children.)
I learned how to research the heck out of the things I want to teach, how to pull out a read-aloud or turn on the mellow tunes when the day is not going as planned, how to sing a silly song or talk in a kooky accent to make the kids laugh. I learned how to print neatly on a chalkboard (well, sort of neatly,) and how to use base 10 blocks to teach place value and I built up a pretty fine repertoire of kid-pleasing sing along songs (I taught music for a while.)
But mostly I just learned that it was hard to connect with the kids in the way I felt they deserved when there were so many of them and so much I had to cover. And how much my love of education is tied to being able to really see and know the kids I work with, and how hard it was for me to do that in a classroom setting. Which all just makes me glad to be home, connecting with my kids everyday, and letting them grow in an environment where they are known and loved for who they are.