Last week I posted about all the things I learned in schools that I am glad to be able to use while homeschooling. This week I thought I would get extra presumptuous and list a few things I think schoolteachers could stand to learn from homeschoolers. As homeschoolers, we’re blessed with a lot of freedom to do what we want however we want. I can think of a lot of lessons I wish schoolteachers could learn and implement, but political realities will always prevent them from using. So I tried to go realistic in my thoughts.
* The curriculum you want is probably out there. When I was teaching, I experienced only two realities: the curriculum that was just handed to me all boxed up and full of extremely useless bits and pieces and the curriculum that I had to make myself from scratch. While there are a few exceptions, the vast majority of school curricula are complete rubbish. Textbooks are so poorly written it’s a crime and the go along resources that they give you to use are mostly a waste of paper. However, from the homeschooling community, I’ve learned about so many wonderful curriculum options that it boggles the mind. Particularly in math and language arts, there are some amazing things out there. I know that most schoolteachers can’t buy their own curricula, but if I had known about some of these things when I was teaching I think it would have been a source of inspiration and ideas for me.
* Not just the curriculum, but the supplemental resources are out there too. Homeschoolers know a world of manipulatives for math and English. They know games for every subject. They live in a world of fun books and interesting ways to get at topics. Schoolteachers know some of those things, but not on the same level in my experience.
* It’s all about mastery. There are lots of discussions in the homeschooling world about spiral versus mastery, but when it comes right down to it, I think most homeschoolers understand that no matter what the approach, you have to work at a topic until you get it, even if working on it means you move on and come back. You can’t just move on and forget about it. Schoolteachers are so tied by schedules and deadlines that I think it becomes far too easy to just move on and never return to an essential skill, even if the students haven’t learned it. To some extent, I know that their hands are tied by a system that insists on moving everyone at the same pace. However, kids need to be made to keep plugging away until they get it and when we don’t make them, then later learning begins to lose its purpose because they have nothing to build upon.
* Start talking to each other more. I hear about how many school districts are constantly trying to implement programs that encourage teachers to share more resources and ideas or to mentor new teachers, but my own experience of things like that was always negative, especially in public schools. Teachers in schools are often burnt out and there’s a culture of wariness in many schools to talk about what’s going on in your classroom. Even in places where I worked where people talked about students or overarching school issues, the day to day of teaching was left mostly to individual teachers. I think online communities have begun to change this in schools and I think it’s possible that some teachers have a different experience (I really hope so!), but even with all the positive school experiences I had, I have to say that I never encountered as much sharing of the nitty gritty details of educating and teaching as I have within all levels of the homeschooling community. People I know both locally and online share their resources and their failures and triumphs very openly in a way that I never saw when I was a schoolteacher.
* You don’t know your students that well. I taught some kids for three consecutive years and only then did I really start to get to know them. Most teachers know students for a year, maybe even for less than an hour. I think it’s easy for forget that what you see doesn’t encapsulate who that student is. It just doesn’t.
* Speaking of which… You don’t know everything. Many schoolteachers seem to think that by virtue of their degrees or their years of experience, they know just how to teach and they’re not going to change it. Homeschoolers may be stubborn and many may have a perspective that I don’t agree with, but most of the homeschoolers I’ve met are constantly adapting their teaching approach and aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something, at least in the teaching arena. When the second kid comes along and the curriculum that they loved for the first one isn’t working, they chuck it out and find a new method. When the path they’re on isn’t working, they change course. I think there can be a sense of elitist expertise among many schoolteachers that prevents them from being open to learning new things both about their subjects and teaching in general. Homeschoolers can put those sort of blinders on, but being focused on individual students helps many homeschoolers keep their teaching methods much more adaptable to the situation and the stay open to learning new things about teaching. When you’re teaching to a group, in my experience, it was easier to get stuck in a rut.
* Listen to the real research, not the political maneuverings. Because teachers are faced with so many waves of reform after reform and well meaning but usually misguided political changes, I think many teachers stuff the metaphorical earplugs in when it comes to information about education. It can be difficult to feel like there’s anything worth changing your approach for. After all, you’re just trying to ride out each wave of political reform, often reforms which give contradictory advice about the “right” approach. But the reality is that there is real research being done in education that does help shed light on better approaches. It’s not always things that teachers can implement, again, because their hands are tied by too many restraints. However, some of it is. What little research there is about reading suggests that allowing students to choose their books encourages better reading skills and a focus on phonics over sight words pays off down the road for readers. There are other things to say about math, creativity, physical education, nature education, and so forth. Some of them become adopted by the politicians and enforced, but often in a very useless way. I’ve found schoolteachers are interested but often insulated or turned off by having to be pawns in a political game of test scores.
Okay, I told you it was presumptuous. And to think I just said teachers don’t know everything… sheesh!