It’s one of the arguments I hear all the time; a reason for sending children to school…
“They need properly qualified teachers who are experts in their subject!”
“They need people who are qualified to teach them, and know how to make them remember it!”
Please let me put this myth to rest.
I am one of those “expert” qualified school teachers; I also home educate my own children, and I absolutely do NOT believe that our children all need qualified teachers to teach them. Here’s why…
Firstly, what makes a “qualified teacher”?
Qualified Teacher Status is the certification given on completion of teacher training. It used to be the case that schools only appointed teachers who had QTS. Incidentally, this is not the case anymore (more about that later) but let’s just, for the sake of this argument, assume that all teachers in schools are properly “qualified”. What does that really mean?
It means they have trained (and been assessed) to have the competence and knowledge to enable them to teach schoolchildren in a school. However, teacher training courses, with their lectures on pedagogy, and classroom management, and their in-school placements, bear no relation at all to home education.
They are designed to train schoolteachers to teach schoolchildren, in schools – a very, VERY different scenario to home education.
In teacher training, for example:
Teachers are trained to deliver a set curriculum, to groups of (30 or so) learners, in 60 minute slots (give or take);
They are trained in how to deliver that content in a group setting (organising activities for whole groups rather than one-to-one; lesson set-up and organisation; planning differentiated activities for children learning at different levels);
They are trained to deliver the curriculum to groups of children with different learning styles or preferences (eg visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, learning by rote, learning by teaching others, learning in a group or individually). Each child in that group of 30 has a unique learning style, so teachers are trained in a few of them);
They may be trained in how to assess whether or not their students have learned what they taught them, either during lessons so they can make ongoing judgements about groups of students, or perhaps by setting a test, or assessment activity that will provide a picture of whether they’ve understood a whole topic or concept;
And they might be taught how to meaningfully feedback, to 30 learners at a time, whether or not they’ve been successful in that lesson (that’s marking books, because they can’t keep 30 children waiting, while they go round the class one by one, telling them).
These are all essential skills for a school teacher; without them, the task would be impossible. But home educated children do not need teachers who are qualified in all these things, because none of these things are necessary in home education.
You know your child and how they learn (or, if you don’t when you start out, you will soon). This means you can plan (or even allow your child to plan) how and what to learn, to suit your child and your family. You aren’t catering for a whole group of children. You are not tasked with filling 30 differently-wired brains with the same facts or skills. Instead, you can focus on your one child. And when they’ve learned something, you can tell if they have understood it and can apply it, without having to test them, and you can feed back instantly and in person.
What’s more, you don’t have to “make them remember it”. There is a growing movement among home educators, towards autonomous learning and unschooling. This is a way of learning in which the child themself determines what to learn and when, often without even realising they are doing so. If they want to learn it, or they see a need for it (including their own desire to take exams later on, if they choose) you won’t need to “make them remember it”; they will find ways to do this themselves. It still strikes me as a bit crazy that we try to force irrelevant facts into children’s heads against their will, and then try to come up with more and more ingenious ways to “make them remember it”. It kind of goes against human nature, doesn’t it?
Being a qualified teacher is also not about being a subject-knowledge expert. School teachers are not, by any means, guaranteed experts in their subject. As a primary teacher, I have found myself teaching subjects I have not “studied” formally since I was in school. In teacher training, there is very little in the way of specific subject knowledge, especially if you take a postgraduate teaching qualification (1 year, often fully placement-based nowadays). Instead, we teachers have to learn the curriculum content for ourselves, before we go about our unit planning. We do not have a vast bank of knowledge in our heads of things like the Mayan civilisation, or the circulatory system, or how to multiply fractions. We learn it before we teach it, or we learn it alongside our students, just like home educating parents would. The library and the internet are both wonderful inventions. The subject knowledge is all out there, waiting to be discovered.
Now, back to that point I mentioned earlier, about schools having (or not having) qualified teachers… As this recent article explains, schools are increasingly recruiting unqualified teachers. And even in my own experience, unqualified teaching assistants are often elevated to class teacher level, in light of teacher shortages (teaching assistants are invaluable, I’m sure any teacher would agree, but they have not undergone training in classroom management, teaching en masse, differentiation, assessment etc). And in many secondary schools, teachers now find themselves teaching subjects way beyond their specialism due to funding/timetabling constraints and certain subject specialist shortages. It’s becoming the norm now, to have unqualified school teachers teaching in schools. Despite my insistence that home educators don’t need qualified teachers, I do find it worrying that schools are increasingly appointing unqualified teachers; teacher training and qualification does equip teachers with essential class management strategies (as described above) without which, teaching and making judgments about whole classes of students, for whole programs of study, would be very difficult.
So does the argument that all children need to be taught by qualified teachers, really stand up to scrutiny? Honestly? No.
Children in schools, should definitely be taught by qualified school teachers; it’s a job that definitely requires a whole lot of training and competence.
But for children learning at home or out in the real world, parents do the job perfectly. I am both a teacher and a home educator, but I do not use the same skills for both. The skills I use to support my own children’s learning, are the same skills that I’m pretty sure most parents would be able to learn or muster if it came to it. They are skills that are concerned with supporting and allowing our children to learn things as our family chooses. Qualified teachers are not the experts when it comes to our children: we parents are.
And we can educate our own children.
Today felt like a milestone for me. It’s so weird that it was just an ordinary day for everyone else. But for me, it was an achievement.
For the last two years (more, even), I’ve felt frustrated. There’s a massive home-educating community in our part of the country, with things going on every day of the week. Things that I know my kids will love doing. Things that I will love doing with them, or knowing that they are doing. But until now, my job has always got in the way. The week days – when the majority of the groups and workshops and meets are held – have always been off-limits for me, due to my teaching job. It has always felt like the very time of day when I feel like I most want to be with my own children, I am without them, and with other people’s instead. And it has felt increasingly wrong. And incredibly frustrating.
Just under two weeks ago, I worked my last day. And I walked away from my teaching career. That day was also a milestone.
Last week, we headed off for some time away, staying in a caravan on a holiday park just far enough away from home to be a holiday, but not too far away to cost the Earth or have hours of travelling. And we all loved it. But the real magic is happening now we are home…
Today, after two years of missing it, we were finally able to go to one of the home-ed meets that I’ve been wanting to get to. Don’t get me wrong, we have been to home-ed meets and classes before, but it’s been hit and miss finding ones that my kids would enjoy that didn’t clash with my work timetable. And this was one that I had been really really wanting. And so had the kids. It’s a weekly swimming pool session, followed by picnic lunch and play at the park. It doesn’t even sound spectacular in any way. But to me, it is. My Tuesday – previously a workday sandwiched uncomfortably between other work days – suddenly feels free, and fun, and full of friends.
The kids didn’t stop all day. Any of them. They played in the pool, and they learned swimming and water skills from each other as they played. Then they played at the playground, obstacle courses, races, swinging on the swings together, chatting endlessly. Then, wanting some space from the mums and dads, they raced off over the field to the other side of the park, the ball courts, the trees that were waiting to be climbed. And they played for hours. I have no idea what they played. At times, they looked like they were hiding and seeking; at times, big sticks were brandished; at times they looked like they were racing, then wrestling, then tree-climbing. My children were free.
And for the first time in a long time (although often I was doing little more than sitting nearby, deep in conversations with other mums and dads, or providing a lap to sit on if the kids needed some comfort, or opening and closing lunchboxes), I felt free too. Free to do what I had hoped to be able to do when we first made the decision to home-educate two or three years ago. Free to educate my own children, not everyone else’s. And free to enjoy it.
Look at me, I am five,
Energetic and alive!
I love to learn, I love to play,
I’m making sure I stay that way!
I can’t sit still, can’t miss a trick,
My body’s growing, double quick.
My muscles love to stretch and play,
I like to run and jump all day.
My brain is bursting with ideas,
It’s full of wishes, dreams and fears,
I talk, I chatter, drive you nuts,
I shout, I cry, all ifs and buts,
I’m stubborn, and determined see?
To make things work my way, for me!
When problems come, I find a way,
It’s how I learn, when left to play!
If I am free, then you will find,
So full of fire, my body and mind,
Are not content to sit and wait
(“Sit cross legged; sit up straight”),
Don’t try to tell me what to learn,
And when, and how, so strict and stern.
If I’m ready, I will read,
When I really see the need;
I’ll read, I’ll write, because I choose,
Not because they force me to,
Till then, I’ll live my life my way,
Full of laughter, full of play;
But worry not, don’t be afraid,
I’m learning things they cannot grade;
I learn these things for fun, for pleasure,
Things curriculum tests can’t measure,
Logic, nature, friendship, grace,
Life and love, earth and space;
I love to learn, I’ll stay that way,
I’m five, the perfect age to play.