Advice from a Homeschool Grad Turned Public School Teacher
You were homeschooled? And now you’re a public school teacher?
I get that question fairly often…and I understand why. Many homeschoolers strongly dislike public schools—some even fear them or consider them evil—how in the world did someone who was homeschooled most of her life and never even attended public school end up working within those walls? That’s a story for another day. Today I want to share a few suggestions, from a veteran teacher’s perspective, to hopefully empower you as a homeschooling parent, student, tutor, or advocate.
For those of you out there who are just beginning to homeschool, or for veteran homeschoolers starting to think about how to prepare your kids for college and beyond, I have some ideas to share.
First of all, congratulations! What an incredible task you have chosen to undertake! In my mind, there is little that compares with the joy and excitement of teaching young people—watching their minds work, seeing the lights come on as they grasp a new concept, enjoying the electric atmosphere of a classroom filled with engaged students, and most of all, standing back and looking on with pride as I see them taking pride and ownership in their work and extending the ideas beyond what we have learned in class.
When I was younger, I always wanted to homeschool my future children. As a teacher now in the public schools, I see both the positive and negative aspects of institutionalized learning versus the individuality of homeschooling. Were I to have children now, I’m not sure how I would choose to educate them. However, since I now have experience in public, private, and homeschool environments, I feel that I can be fairly objective when I assess the options, and I have several suggestions, from the perspective of someone who has walked many miles in various types of shoes:
Expose your kids to many different types of people.
One of my greatest regrets is that I spent most of my life with white, Christian, middle-class homeschoolers. Although there were “token black/Asian families” in my life, I had very little experience with people of other races, cultures, religions, or even economic levels. In the global world we live in, it is vital to have skills of polite and respectful interaction with people of all types. These are skills I had to learn in my adulthood, but I see my 9/10-year-old students practicing and refining these skills with incredible effectiveness! There is nothing to be feared from exposing your children to people with other cultures and value systems and teaching them to respect and value those with whom they may disagree. These skills will take your children far in life, no matter what they do, and experience with people from a variety of backgrounds prepares children to feel comfortable and confident in whatever situation they may find themselves.
Encourage your children to pursue their interests.
As a child, I loved to read. Homeschooling meant that I had lots of extra time to read books that interested me. When I got older, I became interested in piano, drama, and sign language. My mom encouraged me to take classes and even begin teaching sign language classes to other homeschoolers, an experience I would not have had if I’d been in school full-time. During those long hours of planning, teaching, and even grading, the seeds for my future as a teacher were planted and nurtured, and I gained skills in classroom management, motivating students, and interacting with parents.
Equip your kids for college, if they choose to go.
Even though I wasn’t particularly interested in college as a highschooler, my parents were determined that I would graduate with all the credits necessary to enter college, if I chose to go. Later, I was very grateful for this. College is so expensive these days—and it’s discouraging to have to take remedial classes or redo missing credits at community college.
Look at your state’s standards and see if your children can do the things listed for their grade level.
Educational standards are a guideline for what skills the state feels should be mastered at various ages. Most state standards (and even the new Common Core standards) are fairly straightforward and list basic skills that most families want their children to have. Using these as a rough guide can save you a lot of time trying to figure out what skills are necessary for a well-rounded education and how to fit them all into your curriculum. Most math and literary skills are fairly sequential, and these basic steps should make sense to parents and educators. Depending on the structure of your curriculum, you may follow a different sequence for science and social studies. (For example, in my state, we do a survey of American history in 4th-5th grades and then move on to ancient history in 6th and the Renaissance in 7th—but as long as children are exposed to all the material, it isn’t that important which year they learn it.)
Use the public library as a resource.
Even as a teacher with school-based curriculum available to me, I often make use of the library because of the extensive amount of resources it provides. My students particularly enjoy math, science, and history DVDs from the library, and I even supplement with nonfiction books for our research projects. The key to engaging children and helping learning to “stick” is to provide many and varied opportunities for learning—if kids can read a book, watch a video, take a field trip, and do an activity, they are much more likely to recall the things they have learned. Herein lies the beauty and freedom of homeschooling! Librarians usually love homeschoolers and are excited to help them find resources for projects or topics of study. J
Seek help if you are not an expert in the topic you are teaching.
Let’s face it: we aren’t all experts in everything! When my curriculum requirements or subject matter change, I have to get busy researching my topics! When I don’t know enough about a topic, I seek out friends or other teachers who can help me. As a homeschool parent, you are probably teaching multiple levels, and your curriculum is constantly changing from year to year. There are so many resources available to homeschoolers now in the forms of co-op classes, tutors, and even dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to receive college credit before they graduate! Don’t assume that your students will be able to teach themselves Spanish, algebra, or chemistry—they will most likely need a coach who is an expert in those fields. If you aren’t that expert, seek out resources to connect them with folks who are. You will prevent frustration and help your child be much better prepared for college and life if you do.
Talk about public schools (or the people inside them) as if they are less valuable or less intelligent than homeschoolers.
When I was growing up, I pretty much viewed “public schools” as scary places full of bored, mean, disrespectful kids with teachers who didn’t care about them or give them a quality education. My first time in a public elementary school was in college as part of a volunteer program. I was shocked when I entered and an older boy held the door for me and kindly gave me directions to the office. The children I worked with were sweet and cooperative, and I met teachers and a principal who truly cared about the kids and were excited about the enrichment program I was organizing. Over the next few years, I visited many schools, and I found that most of them were largely the same: filled with happy kids in brightly-colored rooms where teachers encouraged them to live productive, character-filled lives and tried to make learning fun. The children I work with continually amaze me with their exceptional intelligence, kindness, and respect. Many of my students have vibrant faith that they share with each other and with me. School is a place where creativity and independent thinking are encouraged, but there are still plenty of rules to ensure that everyone is treated with respect. I love my students deeply (as do most of my colleagues), and I have learned to value families that are very different form my own, to appreciate other cultures and belief systems, and to interact productively with a multitude of folks—and my life has been enriched tremendously as a result.
Be afraid of child protective services, or teach your children to be.
As a kid homeschooling during the 80’s, there was a lingering fear in the back of my mind that someone from CPS could show up at our door accusing us of truancy if we didn’t stay inside during school hours. We were enrolled with “umbrella schools,” so there was no question that our homeschooling was legal, but I still thought of them as “bad people.” I now know many folks who really are social workers, and it’s kind of crazy to remember that I thought that way at one time. First of all, social workers are tremendously loving and giving people who devote their lives to caring for others. Children should see them as helpful, safe community members like firefighters and police officers. Secondly, social workers have so many serious cases going on that they truly don’t have time to harass dedicated, well-meaning homeschool parents.
Fear that admitting your child is struggling means people will urge you to put him or her in public school.
I have known families who were afraid that admitting their children were struggling was like saying they were unfit to teach them. The truth is, many kids struggle with learning. Some are developmentally delayed or suffer from dyslexia or other learning disabilities. Admitting that your child is struggling and asking for help does not mean you can’t teach him or her; it means you are doing the responsible thing and searching for help for your child from someone who may be able to give it or equip you to do so. Homeschoolers can bring their children to public schools for free speech and language services, and based on the county/school system, they may be able to access other free resources, as well. Exceptional education teachers see hundreds of struggling kids, so they may be able to give you suggestions to help your own child. The best types of intervention for struggling learners are usually designed for one-on-one or small group instruction, anyway. There’s no “magic bullet” that will “fix” your child, but there are plenty of strategies to try—ask for help!
Most of all, enjoy this time with your children. Encourage them to press on when things are difficult, and get excited about your teaching, so your students will catch your enthusiasm and become eager learners themselves! Have a wonderful time experiencing the delights of learning with your children and making memories you will all treasure. I was homeschooled, and it was a great experience! Were there flaws in my education? Sure—aren’t there always?—but I can honestly say that the majority of my educational experience at home was positive, and it equipped me to be the teacher and person I am today.