As a former teacher, and as someone who was blessed with a truly good education in how to help other people learn, I sometimes hear comments from others like…
Well, you can teach your children, you’re a teacher.
Well, here’s how it (really) is. It’s true, I had what I consider a very excellent education in how to teach others. In general, most of what I was taught about teaching was for working with large groups of students, and didn’t directly apply to working with one, two, or three students, particularly when they are at widely differing level son ability and maturity. However, when it comes down to it, I brought three pieces of value to my role as homeschool parent directly from my experience and training as a teacher.
- A good background in human development. I was required to take three courses (9 credits) in psychology as an undergrad, and an additional three credits on the graduate level. The value here is that I had a strong sense of normal human development, and what was “normal” (think typical) to expect of a child at varying ages. It’s a lot easier to teach someone if you have a reasonable expectation of what they can do at their age, or what they can learn next, based on what they have already learned.
- Experience working with hundreds of children, integrating technology and multiple areas of curriculum. I find this sums up much of our homeschool learning… well, you know, without the “hundreds of children” at one time part.
- The influenced of accomplished, experienced, and slightly jaded educators.
What? You might be thinking. Slightly jaded?
I clearly remember as a very young teacher, becoming excited about a training that was
required offered to our faculty (<cough> during mandatory meetings). There were several teachers who were, both literally and figuratively, sitting back. I noted, these were all teachers who had classes that consistently showed progress as well as kindness (just as important in my book). When I asked one of them about the training (in that naive, Aren’t you excited about this, kind of way), one simply responded that she wasn’t going to put a lot of time and effort into the initiative, because over the years, she’d seen these come and go, and why bother when, in a few more years, there would be a new training where we’d all be asked to do something different. The other ladies nodded.
Sounds like everything that’s wrong with our education system, you may be thinking. But, wait. Remember, I noted that these ladies all had classes with children that showed consistent progress in learning… and were consistently kind to each other. I watched these ladies over the five years I was at this school. When a training was offered (not just required) that presented real help for learners (as opposed to new ways to write reports for the district office), they were first in line. Seated at the front table. Taking notes. These were not the ladies who complained about not having resources – although they wouldn’t hesitate to point out a need if it was present. These were the ladies who scoured the community for donations, and came early and late and during the summer (when they weren’t teaching summer school) to prepare for students.
One of the things I learned from them was the fact of cycles in education. Cycles. Trends come in… and trends go out.
But, if you look beneath the trend – the “new” way to assess, the improved curriculum to teach <insert subject here>, quite often, you’ll find it’s the same thing underneath.
Take arithmetic. Simple, basic arithmetic. You can call is “New Math,” or Common Core, or the flavor of the decade, but let’s face it: Math facts themselves don’t change. Two and two are four and will be tomorrow, too. We can talk about two turkeys and two turkeys, or two tomatoes and two tomatoes, or two telescopes and two telescopes… you get the idea.
The fact is, I find that these ladies taught me one of my most valuable lessons about learning. Remember what it is that you want someone to learn, and then use whatever technique works for the students… and don’t get distracted by shiny objects or flash-in-the-pan trends. If it works, hooray! Use it. Give the technique a fair trial so you know, and be honest in your evaluation for your students’ sake.