Saturday, November 24, 2007

Waving our homeschool catalogues, or, are we really prepared?

Jacci M at The Educational Life has a thought-provoking post about the naïveté shared by many new homeschoolers (green as grass, right?): how can we, without formal teacher's training or experience, dare to say we are prepared to teach our children? Her solution is a good dose of Charlotte Mason's books, and I'd go along with that.

However, I'm not so sure that we, coming into homeschooling, are necessarily as unprepared, or as different from any other new teachers, as her scenario suggests:
She [your child's imagined teacher] smiles a cheerful smile and explains that this will be her first year teaching. Although she went to college, she really has very little actual training in education. Her degree was in history. She did very well academically, though, and has always loved children. She babysat a lot as a teenager and was the oldest of four children. She's looked through teacher catalogs a lot, too, so she feels that she's fairly ready. Understandably, you're a little taken aback. Has she ever taught a child to read? What about handwriting? Does she have experience there? Or math? Did she receive any training in teaching math to young children? What are her thoughts on children's literature? Does she know how she will make sure the children are processing what they are reading? Her answer to all of your questions is, basically, "no". She seems very relaxed about it, though, and very matter-of-factly says that she has the curriculum the school system provided, and she will just learn along with the class.
Yeah, I know, that's how the school system and a lot of non-homeschoolers see us. As if we hadn't yet penetrated the mysteries of my husband's grandmother used to say darkly, just wait, you'll see.

However, is this hypothetical homeschooler much different from any other first-year teacher? Where I live, a B.Ed. is a post-grad degree, so every new teacher has a bachelor's in something or other--same as this story--plus One Year of Teacher's Ed. Is that long enough to make you an expert in teaching? If lacking one year of university classes and a couple of practice-teaching sessions is all that separates me from a first-year "professional teacher," I don't know why I should feel much behind. In my own pre-homeschool experience (that's up until The Apprentice was four), I would include all the babysitting and so on (and don't make light of that) plus several years of Sunday School teaching, volunteering in what was then called a TMR class, tutoring a special-needs student, directing camp arts and crafts for a summer (yeah, me), doing library music and movement programs for a summer (yeah, me again), volunteering at my toddler's weekly community-centre program, and taking several relevant university courses (developmental psychology, children's literature and so on). Had I ever taught anybody to read?--not from the ground up, unless you count playing school with my little sister. (Did that end up mattering?--well, no, all my Squirrelings have learned to read, with or without my help.)

But even more important than that--I had the luxury of a couple of years of "apprenticing" before I jumped in myself. I went to homeschool meetings and at least two conferences during that time, and I listened. And yes, along with talking to the real-life homeschoolers at the meetings, at church and down the street, I had the privilege of "meeting" Charlotte Mason, Ruth Beechick, Gayle Graham, Valerie Bendt, Mary Pride, Cathy Duffy, and other teaching parents who had written down what they'd learned. Oh, and John Holt. By the time I was ready to, figuratively, take my place at the front of the classroom, I had a very good idea of what was and wasn't going to work for us, and even some idea of why.

And you CAN learn a lot by browsing teacher catalogues--both the homeschool-friendly variety and the other kind. The best homeschool catalogues have detailed and sometimes critical descriptions and comparisons of the products (does anyone else in Ontario still miss Lifetime Canada/Maple Ridge Books?). And the other kind...well, as I've said before, you can at least learn from them what you don't need.

Besides, you're not presuming to sit in front of a class of thirty, waving your catalogue as qualification; you are planning to provide the brain-food for your own children. This week, this month. You do not need a teaching degree to follow Ambleside Online's Crisis Plan, to read them a chapter of Understood Betsy and play "Cup of Twenty." Homeschooling methods are, and should be, somewhat different from public school ones; remember that we don't have to slice bread with a chainsaw.

So while I would strongly agree with Jacci's advice to new homeschoolers (learn from the best parent-teacher-education resources you can get hold of, including Charlotte Mason's works; strive to understand what and why you do what you do; learn the best methods you can and base them on solid educational and spiritual philosophy), I would also like to reassure those who want to homeschool and maybe feel like they're not qualified (didn't finish college or whatever). Understand that being your children's parent, in at least one sense, qualifies you. Yes, you can learn more; and no, a browse through a catalogue is probably not enough to get you going. But you can learn, and much better and faster than the teachers' unions and other naysayers would like you to believe. (Feetnote: Jacci's not a naysayer, just to clarify that.)


JacciM said...

Good stuff, Mama Squirrel.

Okay, I admit, the average first year teacher isn't very well prepared these days, either. I don't know what education classes are like for college students in Canada, but in the States there is quite a lot of psychology and such. And a great deal of how to keep records. My little scenario has leaks here and there ;)

I agree with what you've said. Honestly, I do. I'm flattering myself bigtime here, but it's possible that you and I are very similar. Not everyone scours even catalogs. I know more than a few moms (dear, sweet, and precious to me!) that just want someone to hand them a curriculum and a lesson plan and call it a day. There are seasons for that - serious illnesses, major life stresses, etc. But I do so wish these dear friends had more of an idea of why they do what they do, and more assurance about *how* to do it.

The attitude that I think is a little dangerous is a completely willy nilly it-will-all-fall-into-place-if-I-just-follow-the-instructions approach. The ideaq that it doesn't matter how we get to point A as long as we get there. I know not every mother is going to dive into big, thick philosophy books. I don't think every mother needs to, either. However, I do want to encourage mothers to really think about the *why* and the *how* behind education. At some level. Not all in a day or with some fevered frenzy of anxiety, just at some level a little at a time.

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts :) I was tickled when I clicked on your feed and saw a big ol' post about it. Nothing is better than having your thoughts challenged a bit. I love it. Thank you for doing it graciously ;)


Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

Yes, Anne, I have learned much from a catalogue or two...esp. the Elijah company catalogues...always challenged to think deeper here...thank you, Anne!

Anonymous said...

I want to say that I was that person "waving" the catalog, knowing I was "called" to homeschool my children. The first three years of hoomeschooling were like the first three years of our marriage; I had ideals and was frustrated they weren't panning out.

Mama Squirrel said...

I have deleted the anonymous comments and my responses as I believe that the conversation was becoming unproductive, and because I made it clear that I would no longer respond to anything posted anonymously.