When I tell people I home educate, I can often predict how the conversation will go. When I also tell them I’m a school teacher, it’s even more predictable. A typical conversation goes something like this:
“So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a primary school teacher…”
“Ah, I guess that’s a big help then!”
Actually, it’s not.
In fact, if I’m 100% honest, I’d say it’s been more of a hindrance, than a help. There’s a widely held misconception that qualification or experience as a school teacher, would make the job of home educating easier. I’ve even seen parents asking if they ought to train as a teacher before they home educate, believing it might help.
I worked as a teacher long before I even thought about home educating; long before I had children of my own. And it wasn’t until I had my own and watched them grow from babies into young children, that I began to realise how contrived and unnatural school education is. Now that my two are both compulsory school age, the difference between how children naturally learn, and how children learn in school, is even more obvious; it became so glaring in fact, that it made continuing in my job as a school teacher, increasingly difficult. In truth, teacher training and classroom experience, give us very little understanding of the way children learn if they’re not in school.
I wrote recently, about why home educated children get along just fine without needing qualified teachers, and really, the reason that home educating is no easier as a teacher, is just an extension of that. School experience taught me how to help children learn in a school setting, under specific school conditions, with a specific curriculum and resources. But it is no help at all in understanding how my own free children learn, which is totally different.
Some people assume it would help with specific subject knowledge, that you could then teach your child. It won’t. You can’t learn every subject in detail. Even primary school teachers don’t do this, despite having to teach the whole lot. They often teach outside of their knowledge comfort zone. Teaching isn’t about knowing all the facts.
Some people think it helps you understand how children learn. Again, it doesn’t because, as I mentioned earlier, learning in school is nothing like autonomous learning at home. Admittedly, some home educators follow very ‘school-like” plans and procedures, and I would guess that maybe, in this case, teaching experience might be of value. I suppose if you’re choosing to run your home like a mini school, it could be useful to know how schools operate – how they get children to learn. But for unschoolers (or autonomous home educators) like us, who use a totally different approach to learning, school procedures and institutional pedagogy are pretty much redundant.
Maybe it gives me more inspiration or more ideas – more exciting ways to help my kids learn? No. Because a lot of school learning (not all, of course) is actually pretty dull. Classrooms, unit plans, textbooks, worksheets, PowerPoints, partner-talk, chalk and talk, extended writing, guided reading…. Compare this with the freedom of taking the learning anywhere, anytime, going off on tangents, following a dream, meeting new people, seeing and experiencing things in real life rather than on an interactive whiteboard screen or on a handout. Compared with the opportunities that home education offers, the classroom experience is really quite uninspiring.
Or maybe it helps to have worked with lots of different children? Still no. The only children you really need to know in depth, in order to home educate, are your own. The experience of having taught other people’s children is of no value whatsoever. Why would you need to know in-depth how other children learn? It might be useful to look into alternative learning styles if you really can’t find things that work for your own child, but there’s plenty of reading material freely available that will help with this. You certainly don’t need to have been there and done that.
Some people think it might make it easier to find (or make) resources… no. I use Google and YouTube, mainly.
It isn’t just me saying this. I see, all the time online, home educators who are NOT school teachers reassuring others that they manage fine, that teaching experience or qualifications are unnecessary, that you can learn alongside your child. I’m not saying everybody would feel confident or able to educate their own children: it’s a big and scary step away from the norm. But being a teacher doesn’t suddenly somehow fill you with confidence. In fact, I suspect in a lot of cases it does the opposite, leaving teachers stressed and anxious.
Teaching provides skills in classroom management, crowd-teaching, curriculum planning, lesson planning, scrutinising data and results, behaviour management and report writing. But these aren’t helpful in the slightest for unschooling. And even if we were using a more structured approach, I’m pretty sure we would get by without a certificate or a whole load of school experience. It’s just too different.
But here’s what it HAS helped with…
It has shown me how not to do it. I’ve seen too many 10- and 11-year-olds (as well as plenty older and some younger), totally disillusioned by school, reluctant to learn and reluctant to behave. Years of having curriculum forced on them, and erosion of their opportunity to play and develop naturally, has taken its toll. I looked at them and the environment they were coming into every day, and thought, “There has to be a better way…”
Thankfully, I found it.
More valuable than any previous teaching experience or qualification, is the time spent watching and working with your own kids; following their lead, their interests, their dreams; the freedom (and unpressured and space) to respond to their needs; and a few books about how children truly learn if they’re not tied to school.
It is true that a lot of home educators are, or have been, teachers, but it’s not because being a teacher makes it any easier. There are thousands of home educators who are not teachers, who do an amazing job.
Has my teaching qualification and experience been useful in home ed? No. In fact, I’ve had to consciously unlearn everything I learned about… well, learning.
Children leaving the school system for home education are encouraged to “deschool”. We home educating teachers need that just as much, to unlearn everything we learnt about learning.
Don’t forget – I’m now also on Facebook. Find my page here Hope to see you there!