Thoreau Quote

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Why a home educator is not a teacher

It's Parents' Evening time. Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to it. Not having Parents' Evenings is one of the major bonuses of home educating your children as far as I'm concerned but since A decided to go to school I've not been able to avoid them.

There's no reason I should fear them really. A's school is a friendly, small village primary, A herself is doing just fine there and her teacher is nice, so it's not as if a 15 minute chat is difficult. 

It's just that, well, I can't bring myself to care very much! That sounds dreadful, so I feel some further explanation is required! It's not that I don't care about A's education or happiness, of course. It's just that I really have no interest in how many boxes she ticks or what her predicted SATs levels are. I've been responsible for her education all her life. In law I still am, as are all parents responsible for their children's education, even though I am currently delegating the 9-3 weekday learning experience to the local educational establishment. Legalities aside though, I still interact with her, I'm still aware of how she's progressing within said establishment and indeed how much she is learning outside of it! Home education doesn't stop just because a child goes to school ;) I know she's doing great and don't need to be told which of a certain set of relatively arbitrary criteria she is or is not meeting.

I do appreciate the work that goes into these evenings. I appreciate the extra hours put in by the teachers and I also appreciate that it's not just about how well she's done at Maths this term. These evenings are an opportunity to hear how your child is perceived outside of the home (always fascinating - are they talking about the same child?!) and for teachers and parents to share any concerns, not just academic but personal. But even that seems as if she's being measured. 'Joins In Class Discussions?' - TICK! 'Willing To Answer Questions In Class?' - TICK! 'Polite And Helpful?' - TICK!

Sitting there, I feel like a stranger in an unfamiliar country. I understand the language but it feels odd. The customs and attitudes don't sit well with me. As a home educator, I may be totally immersed in my children's education but never am I more certain that I am NOT a teacher than when I am in a Parents' Evening.

This was brought suddenly into focus at the last one. I remember the discussion was about Maths. It's probably A's weakest subject but there are no real problems. She's just not progressing as fast as she is in, say, English. Translation ....... there are a few boxes she hasn't ticked yet! When explaining her 'level' in the subject the teacher was talking about her abilities when she came into school in Year 5, where she is now and where they expect her to be by the end of Year 6. I'm paraphrasing, but the phrase used was something like 'We'll try to get her to Level 4'.

It was a throw-away comment, unimportant really in the context of what was an excellent report overall. But on the way home the phrase was echoing in my mind uncomfortably until it dawned on me. The assumption behind it seems to be that the teacher is the main factor in improving a child's performance. The child's own thought processes are secondary, resulting from the hard work the teacher puts in. 

I don't mean to suggest that any individual teacher has an inflated sense of his or her own importance, but that within the system the accepted model is 'teacher imparts knowledge to child'.

In home education the emphasis is different. I think I am typical of home educating parents in feeling that it is primarily the child who drives their own learning. We may bring experiences to them, put things in their way, but it is their own engagement that is crucial. Some days I feel that I have very little to do with their education at all, I might as well be a clanging bell! It sounds like some kind of politically correct cliched job description, but the phrase 'Learning Facilitator' better describes how I see my role. And that's not all the time - sometimes I would do better to just leave them alone!

As home educators we're existing in a different paradigm of the whole learning process. One which writers like John Holt have recognised, studied and described so well. He summed it up so well in an article from Growing Without Schooling magazine from 1984 when he said "Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners."

No wonder I feel so out of touch in a classroom!