Tag Archive | teaching

Don’t weed your children’s learning!

I find the need to be outside quite hard to accommodate this time of the year. I have to sometimes push myself out in dreary or battering weather to get some daily doses of the tonic everyone needs for indoor spirits. Without it I know I go stir crazy! So I tog up most days and get a daily walk.

Summer memories

Summer memories

It’s easy in the summer. All coffee breaks can be out there. And there’s plenty of light for walking after work hours. And weekends inviting me to garden, even if the format of that is just chopping back the weeds.

I’m not a great gardener. I find it a bit confusing. I’m puzzled by the desire to nurture some plants whilst killing others. Buttercups, daisies and dandelions spring to mind – what a delightful burst of yellow they are. I have great trouble classing them as weeds and pulling them up or worse still spraying them. There’s a hierarchy of plants I just don’t buy in to.

I have the same dilemma with education. There’s a hierarchy that’s evolved around academia which puts some important subjects and skills, like creative ones for example, in the ‘weeds’ category. And I think this is more to do with snobbery than value.

I admit, there are some skills that are invaluable for kids to learn – reading springs to mind. And it is essential for living in our society to have a practical comprehension of language, numbers, scientific concepts and technology. We want to communicate, budget and cook for example and need to skills and knowledge to do so.

But outside those practical applications why should our children’s learning be controlled by what others deem as essential subject matter? Why should the Romans be more important than Evolution. Or non-essential Grammar be more important than creating a story? Or the skill of long division be more important than the skill of inventing for example?

When we home educate we can really examine the curriculum. And this leads to examining the questions; what’s really important to know? And why is it important to know it?

Within the educational system, most of the why has evolved, not from value to the child or developing adulthood, but for the convenience of measuring them and perpetuation of the system – and the politics surrounding it. A truer reason for what we ask our children to learn is that it’s relevant to the child now as well as their lifelong development – what curriculum would cater for that?

What is more important when we’re guiding our children’s learning is not so much what they know, but cultivating a desire to know, to find out, to continue to learn. In fact, that desire is already there when they’re born – our job is to continue to nurture it rather than chop it off like some do dandelions.

We can look up knowledge and facts at any time, these days. Yet we’re constrained by the idea of curriculum that started way back when compulsory education did, when knowledge wasn’t available to all. Far better to consider a curriculum of skills, experiences and a cultivated mind that can be inventive, creative, and which nurtures the desire to develop continually, rather than weeding out the child’s true interests whilst enslaved to subjects for some extrinsic curriculum and killing their desire in the process.

Or maybe not use a curriculum at all and see where your learning life takes you!

Put yourself in a learner’s shoes

Being back in the position of a learner again would do all teachers good. Because you forget what it’s like and forget to look at learning from the position of a learner.

I’ve been reflecting on this. Because I find I’m a complete beginner in my new role in the bookshop, which I talked about before. Trying to work complicated tills is as alien to me as flying a spaceship and I realise what a horrible feeling it is when you can’t do it!

Kids are in this position all the time. And I bet they don’t like it either. But we don’t often give consideration to that. Even worse; we get annoyed when they don’t ‘get’ it, as if they’re doing it deliberately – I’ve certainly experienced that both first hand and observed, in schools and out.

I’ve observed that people who are trying to teach can be more concerned with their own agenda – that is, making someone learn – than with the learner’s needs and the manner in which they’re best able to learn it.

I believe the distinguishing feature of a good teacher lies with the focus (- subject matter aside). A good teacher is not focused on what they want to teach. A good teacher is focused on what or how the learner needs to learn. And if the way we’re teaching  isn’t working for the learner we need to look at changing ourselves, rather than trying to blame the learner, as so often happens.

Parents who are home educating have the opportunity to keep that focus balanced in favour of the learner, unlike teachers in schools who have to teach to the demands of a school’s agenda. Which, let’s face it, has nothing to do with most of our learners’ needs!

Being a complete beginner at something, or not knowing how to do it at all (me on the tills!) is a wretched position to be in. But many teachers and parents forget that as we sit smug in our elevated position of knowing and showing.

So we should take ourselves back to our own learning days and remember what it felt like (like getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time). And have some compassion for a learner’s position, rather than impatience. Impatience prevents the learner from learning well. Learning needs to be a positive experience for them to truly flourish.

Thankfully my teachers in the shop have enormous patience with me. The same patience I like to think I had with the learners in schools and my own two home educators here.

But maybe patience isn’t the point. As I said above, the point is the learners needs, sometimes what’s needed in a home ed household is to take advantage of the great flexibility you have with learning, try various approaches or just leave it for another day when the learner is more receptive or mature.

For unlike in the bookshop, there’s no queue of people waiting to see whether your learner can do it or not, or restrictions on when they need to do it. And that was one of the reasons you opted to home educate wasn’t it?

So, put yourself back in the position of a beginner and remember to educate to your learner’s needs and not to some other agenda!

All for a pound!

When I decided to stop teaching in schools (way back in the dark ages) I planned ahead how I was going to manage without income and a mortgage to pay. Of course, that’s a lot easier as a single person without family.

But I got a job waitressing on weekend evenings and gave riding lessons in the day. I worked every day in order to save.

I remember thinking as I served suppers in a posh restaurant that, even with the stress of getting hot meals out on time, even with customers who treated waitresses like dirt, it was amazing to earn money doing a job that seemed so easy compared to the same hours in a classroom!

There was an occasional embarrassing moment like when I served the parents of the kids who were in my class. But dad just laughed it off saying ‘Blimey – I didn’t realise teachers were so badly paid’.

‘Well, now you know,’ I said plonking his plate down and scurrying off.

How we have any teachers at all putting themselves through they crap they endure for the pittance they’re paid is what amazes me now. According to the news, they increasingly leave.

But I miss the teaching and the children. So am hoping to involve myself in some tutoring soon, maybe helping those who struggle through a system which neglects their learning differences, or those who don’t fit into schools’ narrow little targets.

However, it’s also because writers, like teachers, are so poorly paid. You wouldn’t think so because it’s only ever the high-earning writers that you get to hear about like Dan Brown or Stephen King for example, who earn thousands. For lesser writers like me, every book I sell makes me less than a pound. And with the pirating of e-books, I don’t get paid at all.

Back to the bookshop!

Obviously books get passed around. And I’m very happy that they do. But when you next stand in a book shop and think you’ll get the book in ‘other ways’ perhaps you’d spare a thought that if you’re not paying for it, the writer won’t get paid for their hours of hard work either! And it is hard work. Hard as teaching – I should know – I’ve done both full time.

Hence I find myself back working in the book shop for Christmas, mostly so I can treat the girls, turn the heating up (I’m writing this with mitts on!) and maybe have something a little sumptuous for us all too.

I admit it also does me good in other ways; it can be very reclusive writing all the time. And although I revel in your delightful appreciative messages (thank you – do keep them coming, it keeps me going), real human connection is also needed and I get to see what people are reading and chat about books.

So, if you didn’t know that ordinary writers like me were so poorly paid, now you do!

And now you also know why we are so grateful when you buy our books rather than getting them in ‘other ways’.

THANK YOU!

Extend your parenting towards home education

If you want to home educate and are not sure you have the skills consider this; home educating is simply an extension of your parenting skills.

Of course, parenting isn’t exactly simple – we know that. But since you’re already on your way with it, you can extend what you’ve already learned about parenting into home educating with relative ease as it contains all the same elements; conscious attention to your child, trial and error approaches, patience and empathy, understanding and encouragement. And research – as much as asking your friends, other parents, home educators and through online forums as academic stuff.

Like you were forced to do when your baby came and upskittled your recognisable world. What a steep learning curve that was! But you did it. You didn’t teeter or waver or hang indecisively about on the edge of parenthood, wondering whether you should parent or not. You were thrown in the deep end and learnt as you went along. You connected with other parents, read, went online, shared problems, found solutions. When your baby’s born there’s no should-we-or-shouldn’t-we, you just got on with it. And you’ve grown enormously I would guess, certainly in experience. Experience teaches and develops confidence.

You can do that with home education. You can jump right in – probably after a little preliminary research as you no

A rather grainy one from the archives!

A rather grainy one from the archives! Charley and I pond dipping and you can read how the wellies got painted in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’

doubt did before the first baby, learn as you go along, connect with others and find the answers you need. There is such a treasure trove of information and support in online forums, blogs, websites, social media sites which also lead to physical groups and meet ups. Like with parenting you can sift advice, copy what others do, try out approaches, review, modify and adapt to make things work for you. The more you’re in it the more you’ll understand about it, how different learning approaches work and what works for you.

We develop many skills as we parent our 0 – 5 child. We taught them many skills too. You didn’t need ‘qualified’ parent status to do so.

The simply truth is we don’t need a ‘qualified’ educator status to extend those skills into facilitating our child’s further learning. We can begin with the skills we have already that are based in our parenting; care, encouragement, communication, inspiration, respect, interest in learning. These are the skills we need more than any other. From these all the more complicated stuff will grow and develop.

Any interested parent who is caring and engaged, interesting and respectful, can extend their parenting skills into home educating skills. It’s as simple as that.

The ignorance of some of the educated!

The fight or flight response kicks in automatically now. Palms sweat, breathing goes gaspy, limbs shaky. I brace myself for an onslaught.

This is what happens every time I listen to another piece about home education on the news. For it’s often laced with an attack.

LBC radio featured a piece about it the other night with callers chirping in. (Sorry – can’t find a recording!) As well as a few positives there was a right barrage from an angry teacher (surprisingly it’s often teachers who feel the need to attack) who obviously felt threatened. But it wasn’t from directly offensive remarks the like of which we get, she was threatened by us mere parents assuming they can do what teachers do, without all their training, and educate our own kids. She was incensed at the thought!

It’s odd that teachers should feel threatened by homeschoolers – why would that be? And it also displays the depth of the misconception they are under.

For parents don’t assume they can do what teachers have to do because they’re not teaching in the way teachers have to teach and they’re not doing it to a system which requires them to teach it. They are educating completely differently from what teachers understand as teaching.

And ironically it is those professionals’ narrow minded view of teaching and learning that prevents many from understanding the true nature of education in the broader sense, as opposed to simply institutionalised schooling.

The other thing we were wrongly accused of in this particular discussion – and another common one – was of preventing our children from mixing and inhibiting the children’s chance to gain qualifications. Our kids have as much opportunity as they choose to go where they want to go, be with who they want to be with and get what they need to do it – how is that inhibiting? It’s school which inhibits those choices surely – for they should be choices.

With all the work so many of us do to raise awareness and understanding of home education you’d think people were becoming a bit more enlightened. So I find it totally ironic that whenever home educating parents are accused of being ignorant of educating – usually by someone in the teaching profession – those professionals making accusations do so from a position of their own obvious ignorance of home education – without direct experience usually. Is that not a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black as the saying goes?

When these ignorant people are being so insulting, they should perhaps remember they are also insulting all the EDUCATED, INTELLIGENT, QUALIFIED PROFESSIONAL, HARD-WORKING home educated ADULTS who are now already grown up, already out in the WORKPLACE, who never went to school.

So despite panic attacks I keep on saying how it is when I can, as many other brave parents do, in the hope of lessening this ignorance about a positive and successful approach to children’s education.

And on a more positive note I’d like to bring your attention to a more enlightened piece here in the papers asking why so many parents feel the need to give up on school and home educate.

Marta Drew and her children home educating featured in The Guardian

The question could also be asked – why are so many teachers turning to it too? For they are. Is it because they’ve seen what happens to kids’ in the conveyor belt system? Is it because they don’t want their individuals on that conveyor belt either?

I wonder?

Teaching the world

When I was a green young teacher I didn’t understand the most important thing about teaching. 20150529_144147

I thought I was there to instruct. That’s what teachers were employed to do, wasn’t it? And also, as a young person pre-parenting, I wasn’t aware of the impact you as a person have upon the children you’re teaching. Not to mention others too.

In fact, I guess you don’t even twig this when you first become a parent either. You’re too besotted with this bundle of delirium that’s just been delivered to the bed, transforming life as it formerly was into something a bit bewildering to say the least. Not only transforming life, but principles, priorities and purpose, as you grow into realisation that probably for the first time in the whole of your life you are accountable.

Your actions matter to someone else more important than you!

The other thing I didn’t spot which I have now is that when you become a parent you automatically become a teacher, but a completely different one to the one we recognise in schools. Everything this tiny being learns, right from its first few moments, weeks, early years, is down to you. You are suddenly accountable for teaching them things – through your example.

It can feel a bit overwhelming!

But it is also beautiful. And it is a beautiful thought that you can teach, and you are now a teacher too. For that’s what parents are, although ‘teacher’ is perhaps the wrong word because of its school associations.

But teaching is not necessarily to do with schools.

For, if you can take your view even broader, it is also a fairly magnificent thought that we are all, always, not only teachers of our own children, but also teachers of the other children we come into contact with, not to mention all the other parents and people with whom we meet and mix and share ideas.

What we do in our own homes is the beginnings of a way of teaching the world, through our demonstrations and ideas.

You can inspire and teach others through your parenting. You can teach yourself as you grow and parent your child. And you will definitely be teaching the child, as you interact, nurture, care for and show them everything. You will also more importantly be teaching them what it is to be human – the single most valuable lesson of all. And this all happens just by you being human and humane and caring in the way you parent.

I now understand that the academic teaching teachers do in classrooms is insignificant to the other messages they give through their behaviour and example, and less significant than parents teaching their children what it is to be human, to care, to have compassion and consideration, empathy and tolerance. All of which impacts on other children, who in turn pass it on, and so on. And it impacts on their education. A caring child reacts to learning far differently to one who doesn’t.

So, in such ways, you teach and parent the world. Your example teaches best of all.

And that’s the most important thing about it which I didn’t get before.

Thus we are all of us teachers too.

Managing a moody homeschool monday

It’s been one of those Monday mornings. You’ll know the ones; where you want to stick your head back

A bit of blue sky for Monday brightness

A ray of sunshine for a Monday morning

under the duvet and pretend it’s not happening.

You get those whatever you do.

I got them when I worked full time. I got them when I was a SAHM – even though I felt it was the best thing I’d ever done and was besotted with the little ones. I got them home educating, even though that then became the best thing I’d ever done. And I get them now, even though writing full time was something I always wanted to do.

It’s the nature of our human psyche more than it’s about what we’re doing. And however much we love what we’re doing, overkill can sometimes prevent us from feeling that. It’s quite normal. It’s how it is. Accept that and it gets a whole lot easier, because once you accept it, I’ve found, you can then do something about it.

I thought that might bring a little comfort if you’re waking up as a parent or home educator who doesn’t want to face the day and are feeling guilty about it. Don’t! Guilt is irrelevant. Planning how to deal with this very real part of all family life is more practical.

Some of the ways I’ve found to deal with this are:

  1. Take it slower with the children this morning. Nothing wrong with doing things like reading stories in bed together or watching films or just letting them play. Playing is an enormously valuable developmental activity anyway. And a less directed day will give them time to practise the essential life skills they need to take charge of themselves.
  2. Explain you need a little time to recharge this morning and they can sort out their own activities. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re not up to much today – they’ll only worry if they suspect something’s wrong and you pretend it’s okay. They’ll be better people for understanding you’re human and they have to cope with that.
  3. Do something different with the day. Change your routine. Swap things round. Look at photos. Have a de-clutter. A change is as good as a rest.
  4. Get out of the house. Walks – city or rural, picnics, parks, playgrounds, explorations of areas you’ve not been before, all change the tempo of the day. Get out under the sky. Find some space.
  5. Phone another parent/friend and get together with their kids.
  6. And don’t worry – it’s not going to scar the children. You’re not going to look back in ten years time and say I ruined their education and their life with this moody Monday, are you? I had plenty of moody days and I’m pretty sure my kids aren’t ruined. They’re intelligent young people who understand what it is to be human, how to be compassionate when others need it and that life isn’t only about their needs!

And one last thing – it helps to think of all the teachers who’ll be going into school in a horrible mood this morning. Because they’re human too and many of them will feel this way and the children probably won’t be getting a very inspired day either, could equally get shouted at, and are stuck with it. At least yours can go in another room!

Lighten up and let go and the day and the mood may very well change itself.