We are nearing the end of our first year of official-reportable-to-the-city homeschooling. When we first decided not to send our oldest to pre-school, and then not Kindergarten, and then eventually not First Grade, I had a lot of questions - what will our days look like? what materials will we use? what method will we follow? will we ever leave the house again? should I buy a laminator??? But I never questioned whether or not I was "qualified" to teach him.
I only started thinking about it recently while reading Children and Parents, by Rev. Fulton Sheen. The book is not about education in the academic sense, but one particular phrase directed at dads and moms caught my attention: "put... education in the hands of amateurs - you." I've been mulling it over in light of homeschooling.
While discussing homeschooling with those who are unfamiliar with what it is or what it's like, the concerns I've heard about repeatedly (besides the S word, which I cannot even bring myself to say because the issue is so ridiculous. Ok, fine. It's socialization, for those who don't know.) are those of patience and qualifications. Here's what I mean...
Me: We home school.
Other Person: Wow. You must have a lot of patience.
Me: (jaw hanging open in total silence, wondering if I should tell them I am probably the least patient mom I know. Also wondering if the piteous amount of patience I do posses could possibly be more than that of your average Kindergarten teacher. Mmmm.... no way. It's definitely not an abundance of patience that qualifies me to homeschool. Perhaps more on that another time.)
Me: We home school.
Other Person: Wow. Were you a teacher before?
Me: Yes, I taught junior high for a couple years.
Other Person: Oh, well, you have some credentials then.
Me: I didn't hold a certification or teaching degree, if that's what you mean.
Other Person: But you know how to do it.
Me: (jaw hanging open in total silence, wondering "know how to do what?" Write on a chalkboard? Make a lesson plan? Input report card data? Host parent teaching conferences? Engage and hold the attention of young people in order to convey something I have a passion for, form the foundation of lifelong learning and application of knowledge, instruct on how to learn, foster a love of Lady Wisdom for Her own sake, encourage individual exploration and discovery in a student's free time - all done within 45 minute segments - all while not straying too far from the text and administering tests with standardized expectations and measurable results??????? Is that what you meant?)
Me: We home school.
Other Person: Wow. Aren't you afraid that you don't know everything you need to teach your children?
Me: Well, I definitely don't know everything. But I'm not fearful about it. I acutally have fun learning new stuff along side my kids.
Other Person: Yeah, but what about Physics? Quantum Physics? And don't teachers need to have some basic qualifications in fairness to the students.
Me: (jaw hanging open in total silence, wondering "what is Quantum Physics?????")
I should probably work on the open mouth/no response reaction. It probably isn't the best public advertisement for the homeschooling cause.
I am not qualified to teach my children because I have a lot of patience. I'm not qualified to teach them because I've had a brief stint as a school teacher (at a private school where no certification was required). I'm not afraid of advanced math and science and I am not concerned about my lack of teaching credits or state-granted certificates. A teacher who is responsible for a large classroom of students with varying degrees of intellectual and emotional ability, diverse language and cultural backgrounds, and a large spectrum of learning styles, may in fact need specialized training and certifications. I do not.
I am qualified to teach my own children because I am the individual on Earth most attuned to them, most directed toward their good (Obviously, my husband, Russ, is in on all this too, but I'm speaking of what stems from the intimate mother-child bond: developed during pregnancy, nursing, care and nurturing, and being around them all. day. long.) I am the individual on Earth most likely to sacrifice for their benefit (I say "benefit" and not necessarily "success" or "achievement"). I am the Earthly individual whose heart yearns most intensely for their eternal salvation and who can most whole-heartedly (and humbly) strive to form their character and orient their moral compass. I am the individual on Earth who will experience the most pleasure at witnessing their enjoyment, excitement, creativity, curiosity, and learning. I am qualified to teach them because I appreciate the joy of learning and the importance of wisdom, and for whom do I desire those more than for my own children? I am qualified to teach them because I know them and I love them.
Those things guide our home education. Because of all that, I am able, and happy, to expend time, effort, resources, and patience for the privilege of personally educating my children. Because of all that, you may be more qualified to teach your children than you thought. Indeed, most parents are.
In my mind, it has little to do with degrees or accreditations. Love and common sense are probably the two greatest qualifiers. Just as you probably didn't hire a nutritionist to teach your baby how to eat solids, and you've taken it upon yourself to teach balanced, nutritious eating to your children without passing them off to a dietitian, so to, you have the ability to instruct them in the academic realm without passing them off to "experts." Don't minimize your ability to instruct your children - you've been doing it since they were born - Did you send your toddlers to etiquette classes to learn proper dinner table behavior and decent manners? I'm guessing not. You probably took it upon yourself to "teach" and model propper bahavior. You taught your child how to ride a bike, say her prayers, fold her clothes, tie her shoes, buckle her seat belt, introduce herself, and make friends. These are necessary for a respectable and fulfilling life. Your child has been learning and it's you who's been giving the lessons. Don't be scared that education "book learnin' ". It is instruction, modeling, discovery - things you have been doing with your child from the very beginning. It is about seeking wisdom that is ordered toward the good, knowledge for the glory of God and the good of man, it is about a respectable and fulfilling life. If you believe that your role as The Parent of Your Child gives you the responsibility, and affords you the delight, of helping prepare him or her for a respectable, fulfilling life, you are probably qualified to homeschool.
So, education in the hands of amateurs - can it work? (Regarding this sensitive subject matter, please don't tell my children I'm just an amateur - and a homeschool rookie, to boot - because they actually think I know what I'm doing.) Admittedly, I cannot teach my children everything. But that's not even expected to happen in a traditional school, so the argument is irrelevant. What's more important in my mind is that I can teach them how to learn. To me, that is the crux of education - developing the skill of learning (Ok, add love of, appreciation of, and enjoyment in learning too. Those things are important as well.) I have had some experience with "learning" in my life (not just talking about 19+ years of school)... I feel confident that I know how to learn and that I can inspire, and instruct, my children likewise. If that's the goal of home-based education, amateurs can handle it.
I really enjoyed teaching during the time when I was a "professional" school teacher. But it is nothing like instructing my own children. I never expected how immensely rewarding it would be to be the the teacher, guide, companion, encourager, and fellow investigatory adventurer to the people I care for most dearly in the world. It is rewarding beyond measure. (And I think my kids like it too!)
Me: We home school.
Other Person: Wow. Are you qualified?
Me: Well, did you just read this?????
Other Person: (jaw hanging open in total silence)
Me: Given the above, do you not think I will give my intellectual and emotional utmost to provide my children the best education of which I am capable?
Other Person: (still total silence)
Me: You're still worried about Physics, aren't you? Let me tell you a secret... I never took Physics and I turned out ok.
Other Person: But what about...
Me: Why we do it, and How? Maybe I'll write about it some other time. For now it's sufficient that I've laid my qualifications before you. I am adequately... no, actually I am enormously qualified to homeschool.