Fear is familiar to most of us, and I once had a life changing opportunity to experience its effects. I was terrified to switch gears in my career. Classroom teaching was what I was trained for, had experience in and loved to do. Then came the option to leave my familiar and valued elementary school teacher nest to become a homeschool teacher and advisor. Quite a leap.
No Child Left Behind had been introduced. It was an underfunded government intervention with very little support. Maybe there were some good intentions, but it was politically based and not focused on how kids learn and demonstrate their knowledge. I paraphrase an excellent quote “How can standardized testing reflect the knowledge of kids who do not have standardized minds.” One of the most exciting parts of a classroom of kids is to see how they individually respond to a lesson. They bring in their experiences and knowledge to see things in their own way.
When I was told by my principal that there would be fewer field trips and maybe none because of budget cuts, I knew I had to make a change. Field trips were the best writing prompts. Young writers would respond to their experiences all year long. Time allotted for language arts instruction was to take a back seat to math and science. I felt strongly they needed equal time. Kids learn to write by writing about what they are interested in, and excited about. A well-crafted paragraph about metamorphosis would be lovely. But there needs to be time in the day to create.
A colleague of mine had jumped ship, left the classroom and I was interested. We met for coffee. She began with, “What do you know about homeschooling?” Not much. As she patiently filled me in with her experiences and the nuts and bolts of how it works, I could feel my fear of change softening.
Homeschooling puts a heavy load on parents. They must survive on one income while one spouse stays home and oversees lessons, field trips, and delivering the student to classes. Usually at least one room in their home is transformed into a classroom. When parents buy into this system and do their best, magic can happen. But it certainly isn’t for everyone.
This all made sense, but what would my role be?
For the first few weeks, I couldn’t believe I had left my classroom and thrown myself into the unknown. I was feeling confused and inept – this was nothing I was trained for. I was shrouded in fear! My first roster of students was made up of families who were veterans of homeschooling, already trained by a former teacher who had moved on. I used that teacher’s outline which was acceptable and got me started but it wasn’t mine. On a Tuesday in October, I was driving to meet with a family who signed up to homeschool their kindergartener and second grader. Stopped at a traffic light, I suddenly realized what a gift this was. I was a homeschool advisor/teacher and I could use all my education and experience to help educate one child at a time.
A plan began to take shape. I had to pull over in a grocery store parking lot to think. There was no reason for fear, if I did this work my own way. I created a plan that fit my approach to education and that of creating relationships with learners and their families. First, I would meet with the student and family. Usually this was in their home, sometimes a library or bookstore coffee shop. I would make sure to schedule plenty of time to ask and answer questions, listen, and watch for the student’s interests and the parental expectations. Next came curriculum research. It was so much fun to find curriculum that was a perfect fit for the learner. The charter school had a lending library and what I couldn’t find there, I could order online. Each family had a budget allocated by the school that they could use for material and classes.
At home, I would create lesson plans, curriculum overviews, assignments, and assessments. Each student would receive curriculum and assignments tailored to their interests and learning styles. All of this could be tweaked during the semester if needed. When I met to hand over the curriculum and assignments, I spent time with the educating parent to explain how to teach them. I modeled teaching lessons and gave ideas for augmenting content with trips and classes. It was my pleasure to plan field trips for several families, then join them and watch the relationships among students and parents develop. During the semester, I administered assessments, and prepare them for achievement testing. Teachers can choose curriculum but must follow the state standards.
Yes, homeschoolers are expected to be tested and those test scores are included in governmental analysis reflecting in the school’s viability. Charter schools are public and publicly funded. They are bound by government regulations but have some freedom. We were able to test some kids separately from the standardized testing model. For instance, if a student was not comfortable with testing on a screen, the questions could be read aloud.
I have been retired from the system for a few years and am not familiar with recent changes. I often think about how the Covid crisis probably didn’t affect homeschoolers much at all. Except for missing the lessons and classes the kids attended outside their homes.
In answer to the question, “But how do these kids learn sports, become socialized, and learn things parents can’t teach?” Ah! During the day, while public school classrooms were filled with students, the homeschool world was buzzing with opportunities to take classes in the arts, physical education, languages, and tutoring in most subjects. In small groups. The costs of these were paid within the allotted budgets from the Charter school. Meanwhile, parents were meeting, creating their own co-operative small group classes. One parent would teach what they knew or liked to teach, while another parent was teaching another subject. Then, they would swap kids. Social events were planned. Once, a prom was held, chaperoned, and catered by the parents who wound up dancing along with the young folks.
Our lively charter school faculty meetings were idea swap meets where we shared curriculum finds, classes and lessons we had found, success stories, assessment plans, and collective shoulders to lean on when a teacher needed support. I must say, I was honored to work with as many excellent teachers supporting homeschool families as I did classroom teachers. My classroom teaching experience helped prepare me for this next step. Homeschool advising broadened my capabilities through high school level.
As I mentioned, homeschooling is not for everyone and classrooms are a wonderful place for kids to thrive. Classroom teachers are the hardest working people I know. If only they were paid as much as entertainers and athletes. Their jobs are pivotal to the success of the students, families, our culture and our country.
Connie knew I needed to face this fear so I could learn and grow. We talked about it, and she was right. Overcoming the fear was powerful. What I learned from the experience, the wonderful people I met and the change in my perspective about education was worth every ounce of trepidation. I’ll never forget those years, and I will always be grateful to Connie for pushing me not to choose fear.