by Barbara Frank
One of the most common fears I hear from new homeschooling parents is that they’re afraid they won’t do well at homeschooling because they weren’t trained as teachers. This comment is usually made apologetically, as though homeschooling without a teaching certificate means you’re doomed as a homeschooling parent.
Nothing could be further from the truth! I’ve met many homeschooling parents who were trained as teachers, and as far as I could tell, that certificate was something of an albatross. One former teacher I know pulled her child away from writing and illustrating his own book in order to do a unit on writing, then realized how ridiculous that was. Such parents were trained to teach a certain way, to use certain techniques (many of which are actually crowd control for the classroom) and to think that deviating from a lesson plan is a sure route to failure. But when it comes to homeschooling, none of those things is necessary; in fact, they can actually be stumbling blocks.
Homeschooling is what’s left after you strip away the time-eating techniques needed in the formal classroom. We have no need for taking attendance, for washroom passes and for report cards. We don’t have to worry about how to control 37 (the average class size in my local school district) young minds and bodies. What we have is far superior to what goes on in the classroom, because we have time for one-on-one with our students.
Making a good thing better is that we know our students intimately. We’ve known them since the day we gave birth to them or brought them home. We’ve learned by experience, not from a textbook, how to tell when they understand and when they don’t, and we have the time to work with them until we see understanding in their eyes. We don’t look at a child who isn’t catching on and feel grateful that they’ll be someone else’s problem next semester. Instead, we see each child as a work in progress, and look at their future as something with plenty of potential, even if things are a bit rocky at the moment.
Despite this knowledge, even parents with several years of homeschooling under their belts may eventually come up against something that brings back the “I’m not really qualified to do that” argument, and that’s homeschooling the teen. For some reason, parents who have done a wonderful job teaching children under age 12 suddenly lose their confidence when they start thinking about subjects like algebra and biology. They believe that while teaching younger children is something for which they didn’t need teacher training, teaching older students will be too hard without that preparation.
Yet teens benefit from homeschooling at least as much as younger children, and the subjects they need to learn about, especially if they want to go to college, are not as intimidating as you might think. For example, I found that teaching upper level math was fun, because this time around it made more sense to me than it did when I learned it in my youth. Add to that the fact that I’d been teaching my children math since they learned to count, and so had relearned it all while teaching them. But even if you don’t want to deal with math or certain other subjects, there are now so many books, DVDs and computer software products to help teach your teen that you don’t have to worry.
Another option is community college. When my son reached his mid-teens, I had to find a way for him to learn chemistry because he wanted to go to college and it was required. Science doesn’t interest me a lot, and it’s not my strong suit. In fact, the only reason I made an A in high school chemistry is that the teacher fell ill the first month, and the succession of substitute teachers that replaced him left us so confused that the school gave us all pity-A’s. But I tried to be a good sport, and obtained a set of A Beka Chemistry books. They might as well have been written in Chinese, for as much sense as they made to me. I returned the books and registered my son for a local college chemistry class. It turned out to be a good experience for him, and I didn’t have to set up a lab in my house.
Whether parents are teaching small children or teens, their worries about not having a teaching certificate or education degree are unfounded, according to research. The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) found that the home-educated children of parents with a teaching certificate did no better than those whose teaching parents did not have one. According to a study posted at the NHERI Web site (www.nheri.org),
“Dr. Brian Ray, in the most in-depth nationwide study on home education across the United States, collected data on 5,402 students from 1,657 families. Homeschool students’ academic achievement, on average, was significantly above that of public-school students. In addition, the home educated did well even if their parents were not certified teachers and if the state did not highly regulate homeschooling.”
Another well-documented fact is that those who have or are pursuing education degrees are not always “the cream of the crop” of their peers. Economics professor and syndicated columnist Walter E. Williams quotes a Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer as reporting that “half of the (Philadelphia) district’s 690 middle school teachers who took exams in math, English, social studies and science in September and November (2003) failed.” He also notes that The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has compiled average SAT scores for college students in all majors, and has found that education majors have the lowest SAT scores of any major. Similar findings resulted after examining the admission test scores of degreed students taking the GRE for graduate school and the LSAT for law school.
If you still feel inferior compared to a trained teacher, you might find the link Dr. Williams shares in one of his columns very enlightening. Go to http://www.cbest.nesinc.com to find a sample version of the California Basic Educational Skills test for teachers. This test is given to teachers of grades K-12 as well as teachers in adult education. Try taking the test and checking your answers with the key provided. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.