My first real experience with being a teacher was in home schooling my three children. I especially remember our first day of kindergarten; I think I was as nervous and as excited as my son. For weeks I had scoured bookstores and the library, planning the themes of our first days of school. I had purchased cheerful math books, tons of educational toys, posters for the walls, and of course crayons, paper, glue, paint and other art supplies. We woke early, ate breakfast together and then walked downstairs to our “school room.” Looking out the window I watched a mother and her two children waking past our house carrying little backpacks, eager for their first day at the school down the street. I felt a little nagging doubt form in the back of my mind. Was I denying my son these memories of first days, of walking to school and playground antics?
We read a few books, played with toys and worked on a math sheet. He painted a picture, and then it was lunchtime. This first day had an anti-climatic feel to it, as if it should have been more special. I wondered what the kindergarten down the street was doing, and if my son were missing out in some way.
I tried to decide what we should do next, how to pass the rest of the first day of school, and almost before I knew what had happened we were packing a picnic for the park. We returned just as the neighborhood school was letting out. The crossing guard stopped us, so we were able to watch children running, packs bouncing on their backs as they hurried home. My son observed them for a minute and then said, “I hope their first day was as good as ours.”
Before long I had a classroom of three children, of different ages, different temperaments and interests, and vastly different learning styles. Teaching my kids at home was the best hands on educational research I could ever participate in, plus it was fun and created mostly good memories with our family.
Of course, there was stress too, and difficult moments when Mom had to push a child for better work and deeper thinking. This need for a new voice of authority led me to my second educational experience, the University Model School, or two day a week school.
The UMS is a hybrid of private school and home school, and with it come some of the good and some of the bad of each experience. The parent is no longer in charge of the curriculum or day-to-day teaching, and the parent looses the control and freedom of being the teacher. Students have opportunities to learn from teachers with new learning styles. They can participate in labs and public speaking.
As a teacher in this school I observed differences in the students from the private school system and those from the home school system. The private school students, in general, were better organized, better at working in a specific time frame, and better spellers. The home school kids were better at grasping the main ideas, working on their own without too much direction, and in seeing the big picture. They generally had wider areas of knowledge.
What does this mean? I think all educational choices have strong points and weak areas. Which path we choose, we have to prepare well, and be honest about the downsides. It’s our job to try to reinforce the good while doing what may be needed to improve the bad.
One of the main things I learned while I taught the middle school and high school classes was how much time I spent teaching things besides my subject. I thought I was teaching science, but really I was teaching life skills, character traits, and organizational skills. I taught them how important it was to do your own work, to ask when you don’t understand, to listen politely when another student speaks. I really wanted to teach science, and I did, but the other traits and skills were needed, and perhaps in a way more important.
Later two of my children attended public high schools, and they had both good and bad experiences, as usual. They have suffered mind numbingly boring classes, and classes where teachers had no idea what they were doing, classes where the students were in charge and chaos ruled. They also have had inspirational teachers that they will remember forever, teachers that inspired them to learn more about a subject, or to believe more in themselves. I am sure they have learned valuable lessons from both the bad and the good experiences, and I am not sure I would want to take those away from them.
I guess that is the conclusion I have taken away from our experiences. From our choices of education we have learned and grown, and I would not trade the good or the bad, because these experiences have shaped who the kids and we are. The three kids have turned out wonderfully and with no lasting damage as far as I can tell. Whatever your experiences are, make the best of them, learn and grow from the good experiences, and the less good as well.