Why would a teacher support homeschooling?
I was a teacher for 15 years, and I support homeschooling. In fact, I’m homeschooling my own child.
I didn’t give homeschooling much thought early in my career. I just assumed that everyone would go to a regular school.
Here’s what I’d like to say to all the teachers out there who are genuinely curious or confused as to why anyone would rather not send their children to school.
1. School can’t be all things to all people.
Teachers know this and complain about it. We don’t want to be substitute parents, nurses, toilet trainers, therapists, behavioral coaches, referees, secretaries, janitors, and – oh yeah – squeeze in some actual teaching now and then. We hate it when someone cooks up yet another “fabulous” idea for teaching something in class that kids should really be taught at home. Maybe if kids spent more hours at home, they could learn these skills at home. We could offer classes in areas that we’re passionate about or actually fall under the description of teaching. Win-win.
2. Captive audiences inevitably rebel.
Imagine what school would be like if kids were there because they wanted to be there. There would go 85% of your discipline problems without you having to move any clips, offer rewards, threaten to call home, or engage in one of the other myriad discipline strategies that your school might use for managing unruly or disrespectful behavior. I can tell you this with absolute certainty because I teach in voluntary programs now, and the difference in attitude is vast. Instead of spending all my time convincing kids of the value of school subjects, I actually get to help them learn said subjects.
If you happen to have an awesome class that behaves well, ask yourself this: How many of your best, most “motivated” students care more about grades or “getting into college” than they do about what they’re learning? How many of them are being bolstered by exhausted parents who desperately want them to be motivated and are offering big rewards for doing well on tests or staying out of trouble? How much of what they’re learning will they remember by the end of the year? Or in five years?
Teachers are NOT babysitters. School is not day care. Why do we think we can force children to learn, when learning is a process that is constructed by the learner inside his or her own mind? All we’re doing is forcing attendance and compliance – and it isn’t working.
3. In this quickly changing world, teachers don’t (and shouldn’t be expected to) have all the “answers”.
All learners are motivated to learn something when they need it. Needs might include stimulation, fun, enjoyment, or socialization around a common topic or activity, or they might be practical – you are trying to figure out if you should invest in Fund X or Fund Y, so you learn about the market and investing. You want to take better care of your health, so you learn about nutrition. You want to figure out why everyone’s so angry on Twitter, so you learn about politics. And on and on.
The beautiful thing is, no one has to plan out your education 12 years in advance for the moment when you decide you need to know about something. Also, no one can.
Think back to yourself as a child – or not even a child, just a few years in the past. Did you have any idea what you’d be doing now? Did you know what music you would like, what books you’d be reading, what subjects you’d be learning about now?
Have you ever found yourself, as an adult, learning something essential that no one even knew existed when you were in school?
Maybe I’m outing myself as a dinosaur here, but when I was a student, we didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have cell phones, much less smartphones. We had the Commodore 64, a computer that didn’t have enough memory to hold one single digital photograph. Nothing that I now use daily to get my information, or communicate with people not in the room with me, had been invented yet.
If past you couldn’t even predict what present-day you would need and want just a few years in the future, what makes us think that we can predict what millions of strangers’ kids will need to know in 10-20 years from now?
We don’t know. And we shouldn’t have to. We should be able to teach the kids in front of us, based on their interests and needs. Not what some testing company or politician has arbitrarily decided.
4. Classroom management is not “teaching”.
As a teacher, you are tasked with organizing and supervising a group of children and acclimating them to all the rules and procedures of an artificial environment. The advice you get is to really focus on classroom management. Clip charts! Labels! Procedures for everything from lining up to putting your pencil away! Class rewards! Behavioral contracts, checklists, smiley faces and prizes! Spending the first six weeks of school carefully teaching them how to be at school!
Imagine what they could be learning if they weren’t learning how to behave at school.
Try this experiment. Time yourself during a single day (or morning, even) and see how much time and effort you’re spending on non-learning tasks. If you have a stopwatch or timer app, you can hit Start and Stop with a single button. Just time it all.
Every time you have to line the kids up, pause in your lesson to give or deny permission to go to the bathroom (which, seriously – what is more basic to human dignity than being able to relieve yourself when you need to go?), call the kids to get their coats three at a time, remind them to be quiet in the halls, remind them to raise their hands, remind them to keep their hands to themselves, praise them for being quiet, go over the rules for recess, or move anyone’s clip or sticker or smiley or check someone’s behavior checklist off.
Maybe you don’t even need to time it. You know how much time it’s taking up.
And no, it’s not because your classroom management isn’t good enough. It’s because having to manage a class in this manner is ridiculous. Chances are, your class is too big. And when kids are setting each other off, or a child is lonely and miserable, it takes heaven and Earth to move anyone so that the kids – and you – can get some relief.
It doesn’t have to be so hard.
5. Parents. Need I say more?
I get it. I’m a parent, and I dealt with parents as a teacher. It can be draining on both sides.
Parents are not with their kids during the majority of their kids’ waking hours. They’re wrangling their kids early in the morning, during homework, ferreting them to playdates and after-school activities, and trying to get them into bed at night and then up early the next morning to do it all again. They’re seeing their kids at their most exhausted and cranky, and they don’t actually have that much control about what happens to their child all day.
Especially as students get older, school is where their child’s life really is – home is just a rest stop along the way. Parents don’t actually get to see their kids doing anything academic unless it’s on a homework sheet, which I suspect is the real reason so many parents “support” giving homework.
They’ve got to take your word on a lot. When their child comes home and says “nothing” happened during the school day, or forgets to tell them about the cool science experiment while harping on the fact that Sofia had soda at recess and I didn’t, parents are left feeling disconnected.
And sometimes you have to tell them things they really don’t want to hear. Ever have to break it to a parent that their child lied, stole, bit someone, cursed, or otherwise behaved in a manner they just can’t believe?
It can feel enraging when a parent insists, “My child would never do such a thing” but the fact is, they might be right. In a less stressful environment, without the pressures of school and the group and the expectations put upon them, maybe their child wouldn’t do such a thing. We all do things when put in unnatural environments that we wouldn’t otherwise do.
If you’ve ever yelled at your class, or threatened to take away recess if one more person talks, or put on a movie so that you could rest your voice for 20 minutes, or found yourself thinking really angry or upsetting things about a child or parent who isn’t treating you respectfully, then you are a human being reacting to unnatural stress in totally human ways. You’re also an adult with years of coping mechanisms in place, and you chose this job. You can walk away from it if it ever gets to be too much. A child can’t.
Parents know school can be hard on their child, but they’ve been told they have no choice.
Some families think that “tough love” at school is good for their kids – it’ll prepare them for the “real world”, which apparently is filled with arbitrary jobs that you’re randomly assigned to regardless of your skill set, where you have to ask your boss if you can go to the bathroom, and you’re not allowed to quit or you’ll go to jail. There are many horrible jobs out there, but if the idea is that kids should get used to these conditions and expect them, then I don’t see how anything is going to change.
Other families think that your role is to craft a perfect educational and social experience for their child, so when something disappointing or unfortunate happens, you are expected to fix it. Even more so, you are expected to craft the ideal educational environment in which nothing disappointing or unfortunate ever happens. (You didn’t make sure Johnny ate his whole lunch!) Children should always feel happy and proud, regardless of what they’ve done or haven’t done.
Good luck to you if you have a class in which parents have opposite philosophies. Spoiler alert: you probably do.
Sometimes parents will play out their own conflicted expectations of what child raising is supposed to be like in their interactions with you. You let the kids get away with too much! Also, you disciplined my child for something so minor that it shouldn’t count! It’s often contradictory even as they’re saying it, because it’s based deep down on contradictory feelings.
You can’t do everything right, so therefore if a problem pops up, it’s an easy transition into the belief that you can’t do anything right.
Some of the saddest situations I’ve seen as a teacher involved pretty deep denial about the nature, source, and extent of a child’s problems. Would some of these problems be alleviated by changing the school environment to serve kids better? I think so.
6. Teachers shouldn’t be society’s punching bags.
Aren’t you tired of being blamed for everyone’s problems? Aren’t you annoyed when Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg thinks they know better than you do about teaching? How many more times do you want to have the same argument with your father in law about why teachers don’t have an easy job because they have summers off? Are the teachers in your state striking for better pay – and if not, why not?
It’s a Sisyphean task – you’re trying to convince everyone on all sides that you:
- work very hard,
- love your job & are devoted to your students,
- but still deserve to be paid well for your work
- and are working in a system that doesn’t really serve people’s needs well.
- But the system needs more money,
- and people should trust it anyway,
- even though everyone’s unhappy with it.
- Including you.
- So remind me why we’re supporting this system again?
There IS another way. I promise. You deserve better.
We all do.
If you’re committed to staying in teaching a while longer, hang in there. You’re not alone. It’s not your fault the system was designed as it is. I lasted 15 years, so I get it.
My advice is to keep an open mind. Regardless of the structure of schools, and the crazy expectations of bureaucrats and politicians, there will always be a need for real teaching. Not teaching to the test, not practicing lining up, but actual conversations and learning opportunities with children in which they grow new neurons. You can see the light in their eyes – they GET it. They’re learning!
I wanted more of that, both for myself and my child. If we could look beyond the habits and arbitrary structures that make up school life today, I think we could go a long way towards getting it. For now, since that doesn’t exist, I choose to homeschool. I understand that many people won’t, and that’s OK too.
Hopefully, after reading this, you understand that choosing to homeschool is not a rejection of teachers or teaching. It’s not even a rejection of all school. It’s a recognition that there’s room for improvement, and that right now what works for our family is to seek that improvement outside a school building.