Letting Go of the Teacher in You

Carol Barnier

Ever think about quitting home schooling?

Yeah. Me, too. The question is: When you get to that point, what do you do next?

Take a look at a note from a mom who is right at that crossroads.

I am home schooling my two very active boys, ages seven and five, and I am stuck. I think the biggest reason I am stuck is that I taught special education in the public school system for nine years and I just have in my mind how our school day “should look,” and it doesn’t fit, and, honestly, home schooling is really frustrating and I don’t like it. I just can’t seem to break out of that and embrace what works best for us! I also think I have “too many” ideas and things I want to cover and have trouble focusing on what is best.
–Losing Heart

Dear Losing Heart,

I have so been where you are. I understand your heavy heart. When I first began home schooling, I tried my best to make my school look and walk and talk like a traditional classroom. That was my model. I didn’t think it was a way to teach; I thought it was the way to teach—the only way. After all, if it wasn’t, why would teaching schools teach future teachers to use it? Thankfully, I hung in there, and with each passing year, my classroom grew more and more relaxed, less and less structured, and more and more able to follow the gifts and interests of my children.

This is a transition that almost every home schooling mom/teacher must make. We all start with what we know: the public school model. Admittedly, a few continue with that traditional model, but they are rare, and I believe that in doing so, they lose out on the many glorious options available to them and their children.

Here is the bad news: Moms who have been trained as teachers have the hardest time finding new models. You have already expressed this awareness, but you need to know you are not alone in this. It’s hard for everyone. It’s especially hard for teachers.

Keep in mind, the traditional model is not a bad one if you have twenty or so students and even more kids coming up the ranks. When the goal is to process a lot of children through a system, the public school model is not a bad one—but you’ll have to let some other things go. In that system, you cannot follow the strengths of the individual child; there isn’t time. There are too many other kids to consider. It’s an okay system for moving groups en masse through a process. However:

  • If a particular student takes an interest in rocketry and all the physics behind it, nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the interest and it’s not on the lesson plan.
  • If a particular student has a gift for writing and would love to delve into Shakespeare and all the unfamiliar richness of that older language, nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the interest and it’s not on the lesson plan.
  • If a particular child shows an early interest in chemistry and would love to play with a lab kit, learning about reactions and properties, nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the interest and it’s not on the lesson plan.
  • If a particular student just isn’t getting multiplication facts and needs three times the usual amount of time allotted to master it, nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the need and it’s not on the lesson plan.

In a traditional classroom, we move onward for the good of the majority; it makes sense to do so. Holding twenty-five kids back because of the needs or interests of one child does not make sense.

But in home schooling, it is not about the majority. It is about one child at a time.

(Can I get an “Amen”? J)

In home schooling you can follow delights. You can follow interests. You can address challenges. You can do pretty much anything that teaches a child that learning is fun and wonderful and lifelong, so before you give up, I would suggest you try different approaches. How about a unit study that focuses on something that absolutely delights your child?

Bugs? Monster trucks? The military? Firefighters? China? Davy Crockett?

Make models. Collect samples. Go on field trips. Watch kids’ documentaries. Read biographies of people who are into this subject. Role-play. Perhaps most importantly, find another home schooling mom who has already made this transition, and see if you can shadow her in her schooling for a week. Join together for a time. Share the school week or month. Watch what she does differently. Give yourself permission to step away from traditional, even if only for a month.

Should I Teach Subjects in Order?

When I first began home schooling I collected scope-and-sequence documents from around the country: public schools, private schools, expensive prep schools, schools for gifted students, and Montessori schools. I studied them to get a sense of the most comprehensive scope and sequence I could formulate for my own school. As a result, I made an amazing discovery: Other than a few essentials in learning to read, and of course, math, there wasn’t a clear path. Some schools studied earth science in fifth grade, and others studied life science. Some studied ancient Egyptians, while others were learning about Thomas Jefferson. Some learned metaphors and similes, while others were learning about proper citations. For almost everything, there was no clear chronology of learning.

This was a very freeing revelation for me. I realized that as long as they got the same information into their heads by the time they graduated, the method and sequence of how they got it could be completely of my choosing!

I was free to make learning delicious. This thought should liberate you from designing your school based on how it “should look.” Instead, apply a new method.

What would you need to do for your child to say, “That was wonderful! Can we do more?”

There it is. That should be your method. That should be your guide. If you started with that idea and changed just one lesson in your school day, you would see the difference. I suspect that soon you would change another and then another, until, before you knew it, learning in your school would be delicious. And you’d never want to stop.

Carol Barnier – has written 3 posts on this site.
Carol Barnier is a home schooler of seventeen years, author of four books and dozens of articles, mother to three children, and wife to one husband. Her objective is to have the wit of Erma Bombeck crossed with the depth of C.S. Lewis, but she admits that most days, she only achieves a solid Lucy Ricardo with a bit of Bob the Tomato. She is a frequent guest commentator on Focus on the Family's “Weekend Magazine” broadcast and administrator of the home schooling community for parents with distractible kids at www.SizzleBop.com and  www.CarolBarnier.com Carol will be a keynote speaker at the 2013 THSC Southwest Convention& Family Conference this August in The Woodlands.

2 Comments on “Letting Go of the Teacher in You”

  1. Great Advice. After a year and a half of imitating public school, I fell back on another teaching method. I was blessed to have attended two different colleges that offered courses one at a time. Instead of five or six different subjects running concurrently, they taught the same subject everyday until that course was finished. It worked very well for my children. My first was in second grade then, and today, she is finishing up her second year of pursuing a STEM degree in college. She carries an average of 15 credit hours and has a 3.8 GPA. She does seem to devote each semester to similar subjects. ;)

    Please don’t let pride ruin your homeschool. Explore another method, and ignore the ‘correct’ forms.

  2. I’m a trained teacher who’s managed to home school for almost 20 years. I have 2 successful graduates. The key, as Carol said, is to think outside the box. Boys in particular thrive better when there’s more time for physical activity. Teach individually with each child’s learning style in mind. What works for one child won’t necessarily work for another. There have been times I’ve taught one subject with 3 different. curriculm, at the same time! Trust God’s guidance.

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