I’m a Teacher—Here’s How Homeschooling Is Changing How I Teach
After 40 days (and counting!) homeschooling my own children, while virtually teaching my own high school classes, I'll return to the in-person classroom with new knowledge and insight on the best ways to teach.
I’ve been a teacher for nine years in Ohio, and I’ve worked with students from grades seven to 12, but nothing could have prepared me for life virtual teaching my own students, and homeschooling my children. As a current high school journalism and yearbook teacher, and a former English teacher, I already had strong beliefs regarding the best ways to teach, and best practices for learning. The shelter-in-place order, and teaching preschoolers from home, has challenged and refined those.
Lesson #1: Kids really do want to learn
After the first few days of quarantine with my five-year-old, four-year-old, and one-year-old, I realized quickly that while the kids acted like they didn’t miss school, they did miss learning. When a reading show would come on TV, they were glued. I’d find them devouring books in their closet, making personal time and space for themselves. I’m refreshed and excited to return to the classroom (hopefully, in the fall) with the assurance that kids will seek learning in spite of circumstances. We all crave knowledge and knowing, from ages one to 100.
Lesson #2: Breaks need to be frequent and involve movement
Taking a break is essential for adults and kids. It’s long been established that all children need movement and that recesses improve student performance. But I haven’t witnessed it first hand until I had to teach my son kindergarten-prep material from home. It was more of a buffet of learning than a sit down four-course meal. He’d dabble in an activity, run around the house, ride his bike down the street, and return for more. In a classroom, this would be seen as off-task, screwing around, or being unfocused. But now I see the value in taking a walk, moving your body, and returning to work, for both my preschoolers and high schoolers. When we return, I hope to implement some walking meetings and more classes outside.
Lesson #3: If it’s not working don’t force it
Courtesy Alex FrostSometimes kids aren’t in the right headspace to learn, and nothing you can do will convince them. I thought I could “beat this” as a homeschooling mom more so than when I taught my high school students, but I was wrong. Practicing sight words with his mom was about the tenth thing on my son’s priority list for his days at home. Convincing him to sit down and even consider the concepts was equally as stressful as bedtime with three kids five and under. We had to try again later, with different tools and ideas, in a different setting. I hope to practice that same flexibility with my students in the future.
Lesson #4: Screentime isn’t the enemy
If my five-year-old will listen to a YouTube author read a book better than me, I’m in. During shelter-in-place, many parents have joked that screen time limits have gone out of the window as they work from home without childcare. Some kids aren’t begging for more shows because they are bored, they want to engage their mind. Choosing quality shows for my kids to watch, including those that teach phonics and STEM concepts, has shown me that in moderation, turning on a video is not a cop-out, but rather another tool in the teaching box. We have to stop fighting younger generations to quit using screens and instead tailor their screentime for educational purposes when possible. Learn the top tips of a mom who has homeschooled her kids for three years.
Lesson #5: Socializing is learning
While I’ve always used socialization as learning in my classroom, I see now, as my children struggle to learn in isolation, how much they are missing. When they can “turn and talk” through a concept with a classmate, work through a critical thinking problem together, or present their findings to their peers, their interest in learning escalates. While I saw this as more of a “social break for the mind” in my pre-pandemic classroom, now I will see it as essential learning. Preschoolers and high schoolers alike can’t learn in isolation, without peer interaction.
Lesson #6: Failure feels personal
Courtesy Alex FrostSmall children have not spent time scrolling through Pinterest or social media learning phrases such as: “Failure is success in progress,” (Einstein) or “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” (Edison). They see failure as a personal attack, a frustrating situation that requires either of the following: A. major meltdowns, B. running far far away from the problem, or C. throwing all learning materials in the trash. Without the context and experience that failure is not only inevitable but also essential for learning, kids check out. Intentionally teaching the necessity of failure and how to properly deal with it mentally is a skill I’ve fine-tuned during homeschooling. I will be applying this lesson with students of all ages. Why are we assuming they appreciate failure for the valuable lesson it is? We can’t.
Lesson #7: Increase practice opportunities, decrease graded work
In my first year of teaching, I graded every single document students turned in, from practice paragraphs in which they attempted various writing styles, to journal entries reflecting on their personal lives. What a mistake. Through my decade of teaching, and now a few months teaching my own preschoolers, I’ve decided to grade more like 10 percent of the work that is turned in. Why was I grading their practice? It’s practice. My young sons also have required many weeks of judgment-free practice, from backward “G’s” in my son’s name “Graham,” to math problems gone awry in which all of the counting Goldfish were eaten before the lesson was learned. In the end, practicing playing with Legos and storytelling has been more educational than true reading lessons.
Lesson #8: Communicating “the why” behind the learning
Try teaching a kindergartener, who doesn’t see any purpose for learning letters and sounds, how to read. It doesn’t work. Instead, I’ve learned I have to teach kids why they’re learning the material, how it’s going to help them as a person, and how working through the process of learning makes them a stronger person. While “the why” behind the learning has always been a key concept in my high school classroom, homeschooling has reminded me of its deep significance in gaining “buy-in” from students to engage in their own education.
In the end, I’ve realized I’m not cut out for homeschooling and I have more appreciation than ever for my own children’s teachers, as well as teachers of all grades. I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned through working with my own children, as a parent and a teacher, and I look forward to applying them to virtual teaching and to “real” school post-pandemic. While I’m missing the opportunity to work with my graduating seniors for their last three months of high school, I know these lessons will benefit incoming classes for years to come.