Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Questions From a Teacher

Alistair Bomphray of  Teacher wrote an article in 2009 called Homeschool Teacher,  meet Public School Teacher. Now Hug. In it, he expressed his thoughts regarding another article that was posted to his site that was a condemnation of homeschooling by a seemingly young and idealistic teacher that had homeschool feathers ruffling all over the place.

The original article was brought up in a homeschooling support group I’m in as a ‘hey, need a break – check this ridiculousness out’ type of joke, and while reading  some of  the links on that article, I came across a list of questions that Mr. Bomphray asked and felt like addressing them* – all in good, fun, of course. Some of this is quite serious, other bits are tongue in cheek; I’ll leave it to you to make the distinctions.

Mr. Bomphray asked:

As a public school teacher who knows very little about homeschooling, I would love to know what it takes to be a good homeschool teacher. I have questions like, How do you balance being both parent and teacher to your child?

For me, there is only a distinction when we’re having a really bad day. I have been known to insist that my kids call me Mrs. LastName instead of Mom, but usually only during those moments where there is a constant wailing stream of ‘buuuut Mo-ooooom’ from the peanut gallery at the beginning of an unwanted assignment.

Frankly, I think this is kind of an odd question. As a parent, you begin teaching your child from the moment he is first placed in your arms. Your job as their parent is to teach them – through example, through gentle molding, through outright lessons… we do it all, all the time. Even unconsciously, we’re teaching our children, whether we like it or not. Homeschooling is simply an extension of that. I would find it odd to withhold a ‘lesson’ because it’s ‘parenting time’ or stop being ‘mom’ because it’s ‘school time’.

I won’t lie; it’s a difficult job. Homeschooling adds pressure and stress to an already 24/7 job that some people either can’t or don’t want to take on, and that’s fine; that’s one of the many reasons why homeschooling isn’t for everyone. Homeschooling is simply one of many educational options out there. Homeschooling doesn’t make you a better or more dedicated parent; not homeschooling doesn’t mean that you’re uninterested or uninvolved in your child’s education.

Balancing the job of ‘parent’ and ‘teacher’ is easy some days and hard some days… I think for many homeschooling families, consciously looking for learning opportunities just becomes an extension of their parenting – it does for us. Though we do have more formal/structured ‘school’ time, we also incorporate education into other things and places and activities – I think that many (most? all??) families do that; it’s not a trail exclusive to homeschooling families.

How do you incorporate technology into your lessons? How do you go about teaching a subject you know very little about?

I am putting these two questions together because they go hand-in-hand. I am somewhat unclear what this question is referring to by ‘technology’ in this case, so I am just guessing here. defines technology as, ‘ The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry: “computer technology“; “recycling technologies“.‘ In homeschooling, we do this in so many ways… the computer is literally at our fingertips – anything you want to know is a Google search away. Videos, experiment outlines, lesson plans –  organizations like NASA and even Ivy League schools have free resources that are accessible online. This puts almost anything within my reach – and what I personally don’t know, I can usually find someone that we know who can teach it. If I can’t, then there are tutors available for hire in almost any city.

If we can’t find it online, then we start looking in the community. Our city has a local college and in my experience, many teachers are ready and willing to help anyone who wants to learn. Several local professors have websites that are designed to be used by the community for homework helps; we take advantage of those resources. When we can find people who are willing to share what they know – whatever that is in a classroom setting or in a demonstration, we take advantage of their willingness to share.

It’s been my experience that museums, places of interest and even businesses are willing to work with homeschool groups because the groups are small and the kids are really engaged and interested in the subject being taught, discussed or demonstrated. Our homeschool group has an outing every week – sometimes for purely social gatherings, but most often, there is an academic component that is the focus of the trip. We travel up to 2 hours away, which puts us in touch with resources not only in our city, but also in neighboring cities – universities, museums, businesses – anyone who is willing to offer us something interesting.

I think that these kinds of trips are at least as valuable if not more so than 8 hours desking it every week.

How much homework do you give? Is it even called ‘homework’ when it’s assigned at home?

I don’t assign ‘homework’, as in, ‘lessons that must be completed on your own, as practice or to reinforce the lesson, outside of class time’. My kids do have ‘homework’ in the sense of, ‘you goofed off during class time and now you have to finish this in your free time’.

In my experience, homework is assigned for several reasons:

  • to help the student practice the concept learned in class today/this week
  • to reinforce or practice more advanced versions of the lesson
  • to cover material that the teacher did not have time to cover in class
  • to prepare the student for the next day’s lesson/discussion/lecture
  • to prepare for college level courses where the bulk of the work is going to be independently completed
Some of this is reasonable, and in the classroom context, necessary. My kids are in elementary school, so we’re still covering basics at this age. They don’t need to be working independently; they need to be well versed in core maths and skilled in application of grammar, spelling and writing techniques. They need a firm foundation of knowledge in history, and a working knowledge of science and the scientific process. I also think they need to be exposed to art and music, both hands-on and general knowledge-wise.
Because I am only responsible for two minds and not 26, I have time to devote to helping them fully develop and master these skills. I have time to linger when their interest is piqued, and plenty of time to come back to it if they’re utterly uninterested in it this month.
The school system is set up with First Graders learning ABC and twelfth graders learning XYZ. You can’t tailor the educational structure for a child who is a math genius, but reads at a 3rd grade reading level, or for this child who couldn’t care less about music, but loves to build scale replica models of architectural wonders out of toothpicks. You use your child’s strengths to tailor his education to how he learns and the subjects he’s most interested in to fit in the things he’s not. Because we homeschoolers are ‘allowed’ this flexibility, and because we’re not bound (at least in my state) by the public education system’s ‘rules’ regarding which information can be made available to and is standard knowledge for what age, we don’t have to assign homework to keep up with the planner.
Our kids also get plenty of time and experience to work independently and even present their findings research-paper style, and our homeschool group is working on hosting presentation opportunities for the kids so they can rack up some public speaking skills.

Do your students have to take the same standardized tests as mine? If so, how much test prep do you do each week? In short, I want to know your best (and worst) practices.

In Texas, we are considered a private school and don’t have to test. There are a zillion blogs on the merits of testing and a zillion more from the rabid opposers that state, quite succinctly, why testing is pointless. In any case, I’m not interested in having that discussion right now, so I’ll leave it at, ‘nuthin’ but the facts, ma’am’ and move on.

And as homeschool teachers, aren’t you just as curious about the life of a public school teacher? If for nothing else, to rethink and reshape your own teaching philosophies?

Absolutely, I’m interested in how teachers do things and why, all with an eye towards improving my own teaching skills. I think it’s a mistake to assume that all teachers have something worthwhile to share just because they have a teaching degree. I also think it’s folly to assume that all homeschooling parents are so arrogant as to assume that they know everything about educating their child.

Almost all of the homeschooling parents I know take their own education as teachers just as seriously as they do their children’s. Personally, I look for continuing education courses offered in my community and find out of they’re open to homeschooling parents. That may not ‘count’ professionally, but the information is no less valid because I’m not turning in those hours to an accreditation agency. It still helps me to refine my skills, learn new techniques and ideas and pick the brains of classroom teachers to find out what they can offer my kids.

Home educating is not a hobby. It’s not something that most parents undertake on a whim, or one that they only put a half-hearted effort into. When you become a parent, whatever your children do and achieve reflects on you – you’re held responsible for the good and the bad. Once they reach school age, it’s still on you, but you also gain a partner in crime. If your kids don’t learn, then blame – at least part of it – can be foisted off onto the school system (who then shuffle the blame back onto the parents). But when you’re homeschooling, it’s ALL on you – the successes, the gaps, the achievements and the lacks. As education plays an ever more important role in successful futures, no homeschooling parent feels that pressure lightly.

In response to the very first comment,

I would love to know what it takes to be a good homeschool teacher.

I think that the same things that make good parents make good homeschool teachers. I don’t necessarily claim to be either, but I do put a lot of effort into it and I see my children progressing and developing and learning and hear comments along the same lines from friends, relatives, museum directors, tour guides and park rangers. Based on that, I think that at the very least,  I’m not screwing them up any worse that the public school system would be. But I think I’m doing a much better job than ‘the very least’.

In closing, Mr. Bombay wrote:

We’re all teachers here, and therefore we’re all in this together. You love your students as if they were your own children, because, well, they are your own children. Well, we public school teachers try to do the same.

Forgive me if I sound a little like the Steve Carell character from Anchormanwhen he yells, “I DON”T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT!” But that’s kind of how I feel.

Deep breath. Now exhale.

Indeed, my friend. Indeed.



* Disclaimer: I am only one homeschooling parent among myriads. I can only speak to my own experiences, ideas and musings; your perspective may vary greatly. That doesn’t make either of us wrong; it just makes us different.


2 responses

  1. Eric Bloom

    Be 100% serious. Don’t let your child get away with any misbehavior. Let them know that you are serious and this isn’t the “norm” playtime in your home.

    Eric Bloom

    September 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    • Mr. Bloom,
      I’m curious as to what your comment is referring to. There’s nothing in this post that talks about my children ‘misbehaving’, and I am rarely ‘100%’ serious. I also would question whether your idea of ‘misbehaving’ and mine mesh.
      I do hope that you had some comment that relates to my post and that you didn’t come here simply to spam my readers with your internet business. However, I do value all of my readers, and thank you sincerely for taking the time to comment, though I do urge you to read the post before commenting in the future so that your comments are relevant.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:21 pm

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