Last week I wrote about how education is all about relationships – that relationship is the core of education. You can read part 1 of “Education is All about Relationships” here.
This week I want to further that argument by broadening my example beyond the homeschool experience.
Two Very Different Examples
I’ve recently spoken with two classroom teachers representing two very different teaching positions. First, my mother (who is now retired) taught elementary school for approximately 30 years. The first 10 years she taught in remedial programs, and the last 20 years she taught children with IQs too low to be in a “regular” classroom. We’ll call her Ms. V. Those last 20 years, she taught a range of ages and mental disabilities all in one public school classroom. The only common trait among her students was a low IQ. The second teacher – we’ll call her Ms. M – was one of my high school English teachers. She has taught, and continues to teach, high school language arts in public school for approximately 20 years.
Education Starts with Relationship
Even though both of these women had very different students in their classrooms, their opinions of the teaching experience are strikingly similar. When asked what makes a good teacher, both gave the same answer: relationship. Both discussed at length the struggle to establish relationship with – and instill a sense of self-worth in – their public school students.
Elementary school teacher Ms. V made statements like this:
- I want my students to go on to be contributors, not just takers, of society — so they can have a good life and take pride in who they are.
- I’ve done my job well if they know they are loved, and as I’m building up my students I try to include their parents as well since many of my low IQ students came from similar ability parents or extreme poverty. I want them to do better than the previous generation. Break the cycle.
- A good teacher continually assesses and knows what a child is capable of doing and the progress they are making. Standardized tests today grade the school, not the child, and should be completely eliminated from the student’s responsibility.
- If I had unlimited resources, I would take my students on more field trips and give them more real life experiences. The more we ventured into the real world, the broader their education became.
- A teacher is a guide. A student must be willing to learn, but they need someone to show them the way. One of the best ways a teacher can spend their time is by helping students see the value in what they are learning. Sometimes that’s through real-world activities like buying something and making change and sometimes it’s through natural consequences like having free time after your schoolwork is completed.
High school teacher Ms. M made similar statements:
- Relationship is primary; subject matter is secondary.
- I want to make sure my students leave high school with the understanding that at least one person in their lives never gave up on them.
- I use the word “love” in my classroom. I am willing to say, “Nothing you could ever say or do could cause me to stop loving you.”
- Teaching in [a classroom] is a calling from God. God draws kids to the love He pours into teachers, and that love overflows onto students who feel most unloved in their homes.
- The constant changes in requirements and legislation to “improve” teaching serve as terrible distractions from the actual work of teaching. Most people who go into teaching have the drive for their students to succeed; therefore, the requirements put on teachers by the government serve as painful afterhours busy work.
- There is a lot of wasted teacher time as the state pushes more and more for teachers to “prove” that they are teaching to the latest list of requirements. I can honestly say that in 21 years of teaching, nothing the state has pushed on me has made me a better teacher; it has all prevented me from spending time on what the kids really need.
- I strive to get to know my students on a very personal level in an attempt to grasp what they need personally and academically.
- The best way to motivate reluctant learners is to convince each one that he or she is worthy. There is no way for a student to “take ownership” of their learning until they stop believing that they’re worthless and dumb.
Education Obstacle: Bureaucracy
My first reaction to their comments is sympathy. The bureaucracy with which classroom teachers struggle is staggering. I know these two examples are a small sample of a large field, but I challenge you to ask any classroom teacher about their experience and find another outcome. Classroom teachers – especially those in public education – are fed up with all the distractions.
Bureaucracy is not a struggle homeschool parents have to face, barring any bizarre state mandates. Missouri in particular is a very homeschool-friendly state. As not only homeschool teacher but also principle, superintendent, and school board, we homeschool parents wield a lot of power over how we spend our education time. We choose what books to read, what activities in which to engage, and to a certain degree how we keep our records.
Yes, we do have other struggles, like balancing the laundry and dishes (for three or more meals a day) while teaching, but classroom teachers (and others who work outside the home) come home to housework, too. I vividly remember helping my mom “catch up on housework” every Saturday after a long week of school. Home educators also have to manage family dynamics on a 24/7 basis. I’m not saying homeschooling is easy, but we do get to bypass what many classroom teachers consider one of their greatest obstacles: bureaucracy.
Education Obstacle: Relationship
The other obstacle that classroom teachers face, of course, is building meaningful relationships with each of their students. If you are a homeschool parent reading this, I have good news. Not only are you able to avoid much of the red tape of the teaching profession, but you also have a head start on building a relationship with your child. The parental-child relationship can naturally blossom into a teacher-student relationship. You know your children are properly fed, well rested, unplugged from screens more often than not, and loved – by you! You don’t have to spend the better part of your teaching time trying to fill an empty love tank.
Ms. V and Ms. M both cite the need to actively build relationships before education can happen. Ms. V gave some very practical examples of taking her students out into the real world and employing natural consequences (didn’t her description sound a lot like parenting?) while Ms. M stressed the need to encourage a student’s self-esteem and self-worth (something parents do quite naturally).
Believe and Achieve
My point here was not to simply contrast the experiences of classroom versus home educators, although I do hope to demonstrate the level of dedication and love that classroom teachers pour into their profession. There will always be a segment of the population that cannot or do not feel led to home educate and, therefore, there will always be a need for professional teachers. We should all be grateful for and supportive of those following the call to be classroom teachers.
My primary goal is to encourage my fellow home educators. As parents we, generally, can avoid the greatest obstacle of education, which is the necessity to first establish a relationship with our students. Unlike our classroom counterparts, who are jumping through hoops and bending over backwards to create and nurture relationships, we parents enjoy an organic connection with our students. With this major hurdle out of the way, we are free to get down to the practical process of teaching – guiding – our students.
If you are a home educator struggling to believe in your calling to homeschool, I hope you will be encouraged today. And, for educators of any kind (classroom, homeschool, or otherwise), I hope that you continue to follow your gut feeling that relationship is the key to education. Don’t let bureaucratic pressures turn you into a teaching robot. Continue to fight for the margin in your school day to make personal connections with your students where we all know true education begins.
Until next Friday (or so).
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (audio book)
- The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
- Ithaca: A Novel of Homer’s Odyssey by Patrick Dillon (book club)
Moderately challenging books:
- Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Karen Glass
- For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in conjunction with Brandy Vencel’s Start Here study (for my CM study group)