I've been thinking about the collision of two worlds lately, or the overlap in the worlds between classroom teachers and parents who opt to keep their kids out of school to teach them at home. I'm thinking about it in part because of the brou-ha-ha in California, where suddenly a bunch of people seemed to be saying that homeschooling parents were going to need a teaching credential. The issue has calmed down, as many were saying it would. I also have a friend who homeschools whose sister-in-law is a teacher who thinks my friend is not qualified to teach her kids at home.
I have something to say about this.
On the one hand, there are the teachers who believe that their degree has prepared them for the work they're doing. It's hard for them to see that someone could do a good job of what they imagine to be the same work without a similar credential.
On the other hand, there are the parents who stay home with their school-age children, who have daily evidence that they are doing a good job, and that it can be done without a background in educational theory. It's hard for them to see that teachers need their specialized degrees: after all, they have elementary educations themselves, don't they? Do they really need to know how to teach long division, as long as they remember how to do long division?
The two sides feel understandably threatened by each other. I am here to tell you that both sides are confused. They think they're doing the same thing: teaching kids the stuff they need to learn how to do. They are wrong. The two jobs are so dissimilar as to be just barely related.
Classroom teaching is an incredibly complex task. Let's not even think about what it's like to teach kids how to take standardized tests in a public school... mostly because I don't know what that's like. The teaching I was doing was child-centered, organically connected to the children's needs and interests, with a flexible, individualized approach to curriculum that could speed up for intellectually gifted kids and slow down for the differently gifted. It was, in many ways, the classroom version of homeschooling, in which the child's need for freedom and autonomy, both physical and intellectual, were respected.
But I was doing it with a bunch of kids, and most of the time, not one of them was my own child. I was spending my days with a group of other people's children. I needed those educational theories I learned in my Master's program. I needed to refer to those books I'd collected about how to differentiate instruction. I needed the philosophical underpinning that taught me how to proceed with a child who was acting out in class. I needed to remind myself of the words of one particular professor, who had told us it was our responsibility to love every child we taught.
Teaching my kids at home, in contrast, is so smooth as to be barely perceptible as work. I don't need educational theories, because I know my kids. I don't need to remind myself that I love them. When Big is stuck on something, I don't need to refer to books that will tell me a different way to approach the concept. Because I know him well, very well indeed, I can intuitively find an approach that will work. I understand how his brain works because it's very similar to mine.
I don't need to know much of anything that I learned when I got my teaching credential, because all I really need to know is my kids. But that doesn't mean I didn't need it when I was teaching other people's kids.
And here's the thing that's been really sticking in my craw lately: it seems that some homeschooling parents believe that because they deeply understand that they don't need a credential to teach their kids, the credential must be worthless.
Teachers really do know some things about teaching that parents who teach their kids at home don't know. Because they have to.
It's completely different work.