Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Between Two Worlds

Homeschoolers are often puzzled by articles insisting that only professional teachers know how to teach. Mama Squirrel read one article only this morning comparing the arrogant parent who thinks he can "ejukate" his children to someone who thinks he can do surgery on his kitchen table, with the same knife he uses to cut up vegetables.

Mama Squirrel thinks there is one point to be considered here, and that is that we're perhaps comparing apples to oranges. Not just in terms of what a classroom teacher's job is (to teach 20 to 30 children in one classroom, all of whom have widely varying abilities, some of whom haven't had breakfast this morning, some of whom can't speak English, etc.) compared to what a homeschooling parent does (generally, to teach his or her own children in addition to performing all the daily home and parenting tasks)...but even in terms of what that teaching involves.

Many of us who've been homeschooling for awhile feel that we've gotten pretty competent, for example, at explaining simple machines or how to multiply fractions. We may be on our second or third pass through the War of 1812 or through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We tend to use fairly straightforward materials, the kind that you might see used in a tutoring situation (maybe by professional tutors, hm?). We know they work for us and we know how to use them, especially if we're now using them with our second or third or fourth child. I think those who bemoan our lack of professional qualifications would be reassured if they knew how amazingly competent at teaching many of us actually are (that is, if they didn't have some other axe to grind such as supporting a teacher's union or bashing Christian homeschoolers).

But I'm looking at a Scholastic Classroom Essentials catalogue...things that teachers can buy to supplement what they've been given to work with (precious little, from most teachers I've talked to. Ever been to a teacher's yard sale? Can you imagine nurses having to bring all their own hypodermics to work? But I digress). Aside from the bulletin board trimmers, art supplies and motivational stickers (few of which I'd use), much of the catalogue is a mystery to me. "Reading Assessments and Intervention Strategies for K-2." "Guided Reading Beach Balls." "Guided Reading the Four-Blocks Way." "35 Must-have Assessment & Record-Keeping Forms for Reading." "40 Rubrics and Checklists to Assess Reading and Writing." "26 Interactive Alphabet Mini-Books" (isn't one ABC book enough?). "Story Starter Cubes" (including such deathless ideas as "smells smoke", "in the mountains", and "finds a dog"). Let's check out the math pages: "How to Work with Data & Probability, Gr. 3." "How to Work with Data & Probability, Gr. 4." "Great Graph Art Around the Year." Expensive things to teach place value. "Relational Geosolids." How about science: "Objects and Materials, gr. 1-2. This curriculum-linked resource is packed with reproducible activities and hands-on explorations that will engage students. Includes an evaluation rubric, unit test, assessment strategies, and more."

Had enough? Oh, this one I can't resist, from the preschool section: "Picture Sorting for Phonemic Awareness." And this one, same page: "40 Wonderful Blend and Digraph Poems." OK, I'll stop now that I'm sure you're laughing.

I hope you're laughing. Maybe you're not, if you're a classroom teacher, because stuff like this is what you use all the time. Maybe you wouldn't like my stash of Cuisenaire rods, my Ruth Beechick everything-you-need-to-know-to-teach-reading-in-28-pages booklet, or my reproduction copy of Hillyer's A Child's History of the World. You might not be enamoured by the idea of copywork, or of sitting everybody down and listening to The Jungle Book without any accompanying study questions. The people who sell these classroom geegaws certainly wouldn't be impressed by the idea of just using a bowl of raisins or pennies as math counters instead of tiny plastic dinosaurs.

Apples and oranges. The original question was, are homeschooling parents competent to teach their children? Should their competency be judged on whether or not they can find any use for a Guided Reading Beach Ball or 35 Must-Have Assessments?

"Then said Elijah unto the ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the Name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." --1 Kings 18:22-24

1 comment:

coffeemamma said...

B's grandma was a special ed. teacher for 25+ years for grades 1-6. When she retired she gave me a *huge* box of teaching materials that she was hoping I could use. Well, you can imagine how confused B and I were trying to figure out what all that stuff was for! We ended up with a lot of scrap paper, and a really cool storage box- carry handle and everything! ;-)