Tuesday, April 15, 2008

homeschooling parents and teachers

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.

It's not.

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.


Evenspor said...

What a great perspective from someone who has been there both ways. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yep, they're totally different. Yet, I think they can overlap. I recall from my Waldorf teaching foundation year that the recommendation was for the teacher (and this would also apply to homeschool parents, I would think) to prep their hearts out, reading about child development and observation, reading about curriculum development,etc....and then essentially letting it all go in the moment with the children. Letting all of the prep be the invisible and somewhat unconscious foundation for what happens in the moment.

My perception of homeschooling is similar: the parent would do a lot of reading, developing their own or really penetrating a pre-made curriculum, and then each day leaving that in the background while really trying to observe and work with the individual child's soul and intellectual spaces.

So, I think it's important to have a solid foundation in the "credential" side of the equation, yet to be successful either in the home or the classroom, you also need the heart space, loving each child as your professor said, and the ability to observe and respond to the child in the moment. Mind and heart.

shaun said...

Wow, do you mind if I promote this post?

Speaking as a credentialed person, I do have many opportunities to cringe at some homeschoolers' dismissal of credentials, including the material learned to get the credential.

I think that sense of being threatened gets people to say things that somewhat overstate their point. Just today I had a conversation about whether I was qualified to teach my own children (hint: I did not bring this question up). Yet my experiences in leading groups of small children has taught me that teaching other people's children is clearly not my forte.

In general I see anti-credentialism (is that a word?) as a more socially acceptable form of anti-intellectualism.

elsie deluxe said...

Evenspor, thanks to you, too.

anthromama, my experience of homeschooling is not like what you describe. We don't follow any curricula, so I don't have to steep myself in one. It could be that my pedagogical position is so much a part of me that I'm not even aware of it, but in general, I don't find that I need to study or refer to anything other than my kids. I can just look at them and see what they need, where they are going next, what we can do that will lead them there.

Shaun, promote it all you want. I love to know what people think. I hadn't thought of anti-credentialism as anti-intellectualism, but that seems like a good insight. I would go a step further, though, and say that this sort of anti-credentialism extends to elementary education in general, fed by the belief that young children aren't capable of doing anything profound or difficult... so it follows that people who study them and teach them can't be doing anything very intellectual either.

Tara said...

This is a really great post. All homeschoolers who poo poo teachers and teachers who poo poo homeschool parents should read it. Thank you for sharing your unique perspectives on both sides of the coin.

Anonymous said...

Hmm...then perhaps what you are doing is more like unschooling. Which is intriguing to me, but also scary in many ways. It sounds like you have a wonderful ability to observe and respond to your children.

Sandy said...

I don't think what Elsie is doing is unschooling (Elsie, you'll tell me if I'm being presumptuous in talking for/about you). With Little, she just knows this stuff cold, in that she know how children learn to read, how they learn numbers, what early elementary social studies is, how science exploration develops, because she's done it for so long, she doesn't have to think hard about curriculum, it develops in conjunction with both Little's and her own sense of what needs to be done.
With Big, she still knows the stuff. She's in charge, structuring in balance in the curriculum, based in part of Big's interests, in part on her understanding of his needs (just listen to her talk about Big and math). I'm assuming that when it gets into areas she doesn't know the facts, she still knows how to encourage learning and thinking.
I read Elsie as very Progressive (in the Dewey sense), in that she is a facilitator and a guide and a disciplinarian, in the good sense of the word. She would (will, can, does) elaborate on this in much more sophisticated detail than I can.
This seems very different from unschooling, which I admit to knowing little about, and which scares me too.
As a certified secondary teacher, I've fallen prey to judging home schoolers on their non-credentials. I have a homeschooling acquaintance whose daughter is 17, and Mom was talking about having to learn the science curriculum before teaching it to daughter and how overwhelming this was. I had two reactions. Wondering how Mom could possibly ever know enough about scientific method to properly teach at that level, and wondering if learning the curriculum first was really necessary. You could learn it together? You could know enough about the nature of inquiry to support Daughter as she takes off on her own?? But I had this nagging feeling that once you reach a certain level, the teacher's content knowledge is very useful in directing students.
These are rambles from someone who knows very little about homeschooling.

Lindsay said...

Thanks for sharing that well thought out post. As someone who didn't experience homeschooling, it is difficult for me to get a grasp on what a day would be like learning but not in a classroom. When I first heard about homeschooling, it sounded like a great way to get out of class. And then I met a friend of mine who is one of the smartest that I know and he was homeschooled until college. College was quite a shock to him, but he has some fascinating perspectives on the world as a result and is a much more productive member of society than many people that I know who attended traditional school. Now, I understand that every homeschooling opportunity will be different, but I appreciate that you are letting us in on some of your experiences with it.

Anonymous said...

I came over on Shaun's recommendation. Great post. And good discussion in the comments. The one thing that you missed that comes with teacher training is learning how to manage a classroom of several children and how to plan and report on what you do in a way that might satisfy whatever accountability requirements you have. Although not the whole picture of teaching, it is an important part which just doesn't apply to homeschoolers. (Well some have to do the reporting but that can be learned as a discreet task.)

I agree with Shaun. For me, working with groups of small children would not be a good idea. I won't even volunteer to lead Sunday School. But teaching my own child is another story.

And I suspect that some of the reason you don't need to read about or refer to any of the theory or curriculum is that you already have it in your head. But I think you are right that a homeschooling parent might do that in a different way. So, for example, I have recently been reading about math and physics to try to work out how we might approach those things in the coming year. It has been a long time, and I didn't have a good grasp of the breadth of possibilities. So I've researched it and reminded myself of what I know and now have a grasp of what hte possibilities are, so I can just focus on what is working with Tigger and make adjustments as we go.

elsie deluxe said...

It's so helpful to me that ya'll are figuring out whether I'm an unschooler or not. I myself have no idea. I think Shaun's post about unschooling and Santa Claus was insightful, and I think a big part of the problem is that we all of us mean something a little different when we use the term.

I agree with Sandy that I am more of a Dewey-inspired progressive. Or at least that's certainly what I aspire to ve. I'm thinking that I am actually steeped in a philosophy, but that it is largely unconscious. That is, I can articulate it if called on to do so, but since I don't have to explain my teaching to the parents of my students anymore ;-), I rarely do.

I have to say that when we start talking about the secondary level, all my carefully thought out positions and opinions are going right out the window. I do not believe I can do a decent job of student-centered physics, for example, because I couldn't do physics to save my life. This experiment ends at eighth grade, if not sooner.

elsie deluxe said...

oh yeah, and Jove, I thought about talking about management and reporting, because that's such a huge part of it, but I decided not to dilute the basic message. There is also something in me that hesitates to be really explicit about the need to be constantly managing classroom behavior, because I think it just feeds school-bashing.

Reporting turned out to be a huge part of what I was doing as a teacher, both formally and informally. When the need to keep parents informed disappeared, so did a huge chunk of what I was doing every day.

Anonymous said...

I see your point about managing behaviour as part of the school-bashing, but maybe it would be helpful to have a teacher perspective on this. It was only when I read your response that I realized that many people assume "managing a classroom of 20 kids" means dealing with bad behaviour. For me, it means finding ways of working that enable 20 (or 30) kids to all be doing something useful and educational even though they can't have the teacher working right with them every minute. It means thinking about ways of getting kids to work together to solve problems and learn (something I can't do as a homeschooler because I only have 1 child). It means finding ways of presenting material that will work for kids with different learning styles who are all sitting in the room at the same time.

And these are important skills that I do think school teachers need.

posts like this one make me think that politically homeschoolers need to be able to work with teachers' unions rather than assume they are the enemy. If we understood each other better, we could work together to fight some of the political decisions that are really causing problems.

Theresa said...

I don't think I have anything new to add to this discussion, but just wanted to add that I agree. Having been a classroom teacher and now I homeschooler I also see them as two totally different jobs. The skills that I needed to manage a classroom (the positive skills Jove pointed out) and be an effective teacher to many children at once just simply do not come into play here at home.
I do think, however, that homeschoolers can benefit from reading and learning educational theory. Though much of it may not apply to a homeschooling situation, I have gotten much benefit from pondering the various theories, whether or not I choose to accept or adapt them.
It's funny, but when someone questions my ability to homeschool my children, that usually ends once they find out I was once a public school teacher. That always baffles me because I just don't see my teaching experience as playing a major (or even minor, really) part in the success of my homeschool.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post and the comments, and agree- except for the idea those who don't see credentials as particularly valuable are against credentialing itself or view educational degrees as worthless.

What I believe is that credentials are often seen as a guarantee of ability and quality, when indeed they are not. Teacher ability/quality is impacted by everything from the psychological makeup of the teacher to the quality of the teaching program they completed. No two 'credentials' are the same- but in most folks' minds, when they hear 'accreditation' or 'credentials' they perceive all advanced educational degrees as being equal.

Making sense here? Also, I believe public education shoots itself in the foot with the high school level credentialing argument, especially when the basketball coach is teaching science or history. ;)

Mrs. C said...

Hi! Came here from Sunniemom's blog. Have to agree with Sunniemom (she can tell you I don't always). Have linked to this post in my own blog and expounded a bit on the fact that while I agree ps. and homeschool teaching is different, "certification" is not anything magical. There are problems inherent in the ps "system" no amount of teacher-certification is going to fix.

Daisy said...

Well said. Totally different approaches, totally different needs.
- 4th grade teacher, public schools

Learners At Home said...

I read this and really could relate to this post. I am a homeschool parent who teaches at home while also having children in our public schools. I shared this with our members over at AKOL, a place I created for hs parents and teachers to learn from eachother, there is much to learn....great post~

Velma said...

I can really relate to this post and I think you said it very well. As a retired teacher now raising and homeschooling my grandson, I have also seen both worlds. While I did not think my education prepared me as well as it should have for classroom teaching, I did (and do) value it. However, when I began teaching my right-brained, creative learner boy who is diagnosed with mild Asperger's I had a lot to learn, and I learned most of it from him and some homeschooling moms with similar children. It is a totally different thing, but a wonderful experience. It keeps me busy, but I enjoy being able to focus on the true needs of a child I know (and love)very well. My approach to teaching has changed a lot. Still, in the eyes of those still in the public system, my ability to homeschool is enhanced by my masters in education and my ps experience. I, on the other hand, feel that I learned more helpful things for homeschooling from other parents.

I will post a link to your blog on my blog (http://hilltophomeschool.wordpress.com/ )and will be back to read more.