Am I qualified to be my kid’s teacher?
Short answer: Yes. You’ve been teaching your kid from birth.
But if you’re concerned or have questions, read on.
How do you know about teaching, Lisa?
Weirdly enough, I am a teacher. I could have had your kid in my class. I logged over 15 years in schools before embarking on this adventure with my own kiddo. So if by “qualified”, you mean “Do you have a degree in education?” or “Have you taught in an academic setting?” that’d be a yes.
But do I think that homeschoolers have to have education degrees in order to homeschool? No, I don’t.
You’re gonna have to explain that one.
I’m going to get real. I spent four years getting my graduate degree in teaching, and another 7 years as an adjunct professor working with teacher candidates. Graduate school, at its best, is thought provoking and eye opening. But taking graduate courses is NOT teacher training. Actually getting in a room with children and doing the work of teaching is.
Are you saying that graduate degrees are worthless?
Not at all! Otherwise that framed piece of paper on my wall was super-overpriced.
But let’s be clear. Reading books, having class discussions, and writing papers about issues in education is research. Some of that research is directly applicable to the eventual act of teaching. But until you actually start teaching, it’s literally just academic.
It’s like trying to learn to play piano by reading books about famous pianists, learning the physics of how piano strings vibrate to create wavelengths, and – when you’re really advanced – listening to beautiful piano music.
And then you sit down at a piano and put your own hands on the keyboard. The famous pianists have left you alone, the strings vibrate whether you know the physics or not, and the beautiful piano music is replaced by your own clumsy technique. The only way to get better is to practice.
Working with kids is like that. You’re going to want to consult books, ask other people how they would handle X or Y situation, maybe look up what “research” says is important to do or not do. But mostly, you have to practice.
Don’t you think anyone who teaches kids should be certified?
I’m for anything that works. So, does certification work? Is it helpful? Does it lead to better outcomes?
There’s some educational research on this question, and it’s mixed. Just pop “teacher certification” into Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) and you’ll see lots of articles attempting to delve into this question.
They don’t come up with a firm result, because researching education is hard. There are tons of variables in play, and many confounding factors. I could wander far out into the weeds here, but allergies…
Here’s the thing: none of these articles are about homeschooling your own children. They’re about teaching in institutions. They’re about schools.
Is teaching your own child the same thing as teaching a class of children? Um, no. Not in the slightest. Take it from someone who’s done both.
But you still have to know what to teach, right? And how to teach it?
If you subscribe to the viewpoint of teacher as expert, then yes. Teaching structured lessons and units is way easier and more effective if you’re knowledgeable.
This knowledge comes in two flavors:
content knowledge – knowing what you’re talking about, and
pedagogy – knowing how to teach it to kids.
Content knowledge is knowing what the subject matter is all about. Making the facts your friend.
This is mostly easy to accomplish. You learn the material yourself, or hire someone who knows the material to teach it to your kids. There’s no rule that you have to be the one to teach your kids every subject, whether it be piano or particle physics. But it can be powerful when you and your kids learn the material together.
It amuses me to think that teachers are supposed to learn all the content knowledge they might have to teach in graduate programs. That is definitely not a thing.
It’s not even desirable. I have taught many topics, at schools and in museums, that were not even on the radar when I was in school as a student.
Here’s just one example: rockets. My son is obsessed with them. We watch launches together, experiment with how rockets work, discuss future missions to Mars and new advances in rover technology. But when I was in graduate school, SpaceX was still mostly a gleam in Elon Musk’s eye.
There is just no way to prepare teachers to teach all content, because content is always changing.
Then there’s pedagogy – knowing how to teach children. Education schools focus more on this, but again, teachers do a LOT of learning on the job. And again, the focus is on educating groups of students, not individuals.
Teachers plan lessons and units with the whole group in mind. They have to do a lot of extra work to differentiate the material for kids who are at different levels. And they also need strategies for just figuring out and keeping track of what the kids know. In short, they need skills to manage the artificial constraints of school.
You don’t need to worry about any of this.
Education professors and graduate textbooks don’t know your child. They don’t know how your child learns best, what she’s interested in, or what he hates. They’re writing about generic groups of kids, not your specific kids. And they’re assuming that your kids are spending their days in a single building, maybe even in one room, with the same group of peers day in and day out. Under such circumstances, you might need a special “bag of tricks” to keep kids learning and engaged.
But for homeschool? No. You don’t need that bag of tricks.
There are a few subject areas in which there are “best practices” according to the research – but that doesn’t mean those are the best practices for YOUR child. Still, they aren’t top secret, only accessible to people enrolled in graduate programs. They are widely available in books and online! I’m developing a short list that I’ll link to when it’s live.
What if I didn’t do well in school as a student?
More power to you! You know what it’s like to struggle with academics. That’s actually an advantage.
I say this for two reasons. One reason is that it’s important to empathize with kids when they’re slogging through difficult tasks. Hearing “well, it was easy for me” is super unhelpful, while “I get it, I felt that way about X subject” is better.
The other reason is that people who learn “naturally” can have difficulty communicating their knowledge to people who don’t learn the same way. Being able to break a skill down and go through it step by step can be very helpful, and people who “get” things right away don’t necessarily know how to do this. I was one of these people. I had to train myself to see learning the way my students saw it.
Also, consider that the problem you may have experienced in school was not YOUR fault. As the student, you showed up, but you didn’t encounter a setting that supported you. Maybe the fault was in your school setting! That’s a problem you can totally avoid by homeschooling.
Many students leave school feeling unsuccessful. But this is more about our school system than it is about the students.
What’s the bottom line?
If you’re aware enough to ask whether you’re qualified to teach your children, you probably are. You care about education and learning, and you want your kids to succeed. So, you’re already halfway there!
So whether you brush up on your Shakespeare, seek out the best Shakespeare lectures online to share together, or hire Sir Patrick Stewart to teach Shakespearian acting to your student (sigh… if only…) you are always empowered to make the decisions that will be best for your child.
Truth is, no one is more qualified to help YOUR child than YOU are.
What subjects do you dread having to tackle with your child? (Mine are advanced math and physics.) Leave a comment below!