A Reason Credentials Shouldn't Concern Homeschoolers

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He could have been my older brother; a handsomer,* smarter, more well-adjusted older brother, to be sure. But he was tall with thick hair, glasses, and a jaw like that of a Grecian statue. His eyes danced merrily as he answered my questions, his attention focused equally on my queries and the chatter around him.

"I teach science at a local school. Well, I teach a good deal more than that because of the district I'm in, but I have a degree in science and environmental studies."

As he talks, I get a vague impression of the conditions of his school: At-risk students, low faculty count, non-engaged parents, budget restrictions. And so this guy, somewhere around my age, is required to teach outside his area of expertise... and he seems to be doing just fine at it.

Teaching Everything

I have another friend who spent her summer preparing to teach 1st and 2nd graders. Two weeks before the start of the year, the school told her she was actually going to be teaching 5th and 6th graders. She had to scramble to try to adjust her lessons to better match her new student group.

Stories like these remind me that, as homeschoolers, we need not be concerned with our lack of teaching credentials. Great teachers all over the nation are put into situations that are beyond their prepared curriculum. They adjust to the demands and needs of the situation. And you, having spent as much time with your children as you have, have a head start in that department. What's more, you have plenty of homeschool curriculum options to teach any subject you may wish to cover. You can be as prepared--if not more so--as the teachers in the schools around you.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

*It's a word. I checked.

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  1. NFQ

    It seems to me like there's a happy medium between being excessively worried about one's credentials and being totally unconcerned about lacking them. Homeschooling parents who barely remember long division are going to have a difficult time teaching their children math, no matter what pre-prepared curriculum they buy, especially once/if they get into more complicated topics like trigonometry or even calculus.

    I think at some point it's irresponsible to homeschool your kids and not concern yourself with your credentials for educating them in the topics you're claiming to. I know a number of homeschooling families that sign their kids up for outside courses when they know their kids have gone past what they are qualified to teach them on their own. Others team up -- so that the parent who got a history degree in college teaches several families' kids about history, the parent who went to college for chemistry teaches them science, etc. Of course at some point what they are doing is reconstructing a "normal" school environment, piece by piece and much less efficiently than you'd expect their local school district to be doing it ... but I can imagine situations in which that would still be preferable.

    • Cathy

      My daughter taught herself trigonometry. I don't think she's overly unusual either. She just learned how to self-educate. We had the back up of a tutor if she ran into problems, had questions, or needed further instruction. She didn't. She found that having to figure things out on her own meant she retained the information and truly understood it. Very few homeschoolers are trying to reconstruct "normal" school. In fact, we try to ensure that our children are not receiving instruction in the same ways as the public schools. Most of us have found there are much more effective methods. If we do seek out the help of someone in a specialized field, it is done to broaden horizons because that specialty is in an area of interest for the child. The specialty usually isn't something they can just read a book and comprehend. Often it is with the hands-on courses, like music or art or even some labs, where reaching out is contemplated. Even in tutoring situations, it is still usually one-on-one or in small groups. If a student is truly advanced in high school, many colleges offer dual credit. Many homeschoolers have their first classroom experience in that sort of situation and do well.

      There are always exceptions. Some homeschooling parents might not get their children the help they need for advancement. However, there are many public schooled children that slip through the cracks long before they get to high school. Statistically, research has shown that homeschooled students far outperform public and private schooled children on standardized tests, college entrance exams, and in college performance. That wasn't because they replicated a "school" environment. As for the education level of the parents, studies have proven there are "no significant statistical differences in academic achievement between those students taught by parents with less formal education and those students taught by parents with higher formal education"(http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000010/200410250.asp).

      It's great that homeschool co-ops and groups have formed to help teach children in certain areas. But, having been a part of this kind of setting before, it is usually closer to a mentoring or small group type of environment than it is a replication of public school. These smaller groups are usually very efficient. They aren't educating "much less efficiently than you'd expect their local school district to be doing it".

  2. ACsMama

    Hmmm...I see what you are saying, but as someone who DOES have teaching credentials (for Preschool-Grade 5), I think you are overlooking the training in HOW to actually teach (pedagogy), which is just as important as the content knowledge of say, long division, or American History.

    Now, you can gain knowledge of how to teach without going through 4 years of college/university. There are some very good resources in print and on-line. However, I don't think parents should ever just brush off the fact that they don't have credentials because teachers are teaching outside of their areas of certification. A high school science teacher teaching English has the curriculum+his knowledge of how to teach, which may make him a more effective English teacher than the English major who has never studied pedagogy and has no teaching experience (at least IME).

    While my own mother did an excellent job home schooling 4 of us (and now teaches quite successfully in a Christian school) without having any teaching credentials, she was constantly reading up on learning styles, various teaching methods, multiple intelligences, etc. Lack of credentials does not mean you cannot teach your children effectively, but there is still a place for learning both the content and the process of teaching before (and while) trying to educate your children.

    • Tj

      To teach you don't need to know all the learning styles. You need to observe your child. If you observe him/her between the age of 4 and 6 then you will know. What does he likes more to make the ABCs with play doh or when he was singing it? When did he finally learned them faster? It's observation and taking notes. Finding what works best. Know what works best for your child. The rest is teach, practice, test.

      A teacher needs to be certified because he/she was not with the child during those first years. They need to teach 25-30 children as effectively as they can. They have limited amount of time, we don't, we teach all day every day. I can also name five more responsibilities that a teacher has, that we don't.

      Teaching is an art. As such you can learn the history and mechanics of it, but in reality you can't learn to be an artist.
      Even if you are not an artist I'm sure you can get your point across.

      That's also the reason why there are teachers out there that after years of training are still awful at teachers.

  3. I agree with ACsMama, that knowing how to teach is crucial. I don't think you need to be quite as expert at it as a trained teacher, though, because of the fact that you're teaching your own kids, whom you hopefully know better than anybody else. In contrast, a teacher needs to be prepared to quickly take in and evaluate for learning styles, difficulties, behavioral issues, etc. as many as 40 students in a single class (many more over the course of the day), and only has about 180 days to work with them.

    So I think that a parent can sometimes get by with less knowledge of pedagogy than a teacher can because she/he knows the particular kids better, and even if she doesn't know the terms for different learning styles, she will probably realize that one student loves workbooks and works better with visual presentations, and another prefers to have directions and information read aloud, or likes hands-on practice.

    I think a parent also needs to recognize her limits and know where to go when she isn't able to teach a subject sufficiently. Yes, to a degree, a well-motivated student may be able to learn from a book, but almost all kids need help sometimes even in the most book-based subject (like math). The parent needs to either be able and willing to learn the subject with/a little ahead of her child in order to be able to explain things, or needs to have a resource she can go to, perhaps the other parent, a friend, online resources, a homeschooling group, whatever. Coops, classes, and tutors can also be options. But I truly cannot believe that a parent who writes almost incomprehensibly can teach a young child to write well, and I know I've run into a few.

  4. I had no idea "handsomer" was a word... It looks funny too!

  5. NFQ, outside resources are just one of many great tools available to homeschoolers! And I would be remiss not to mention them/discredit them. On the other hand, even if we've forgotten the particulars of a subject, homeschooling always affords us parents the opportunity to learn/relearn stuff alongside our children <smile>. So many people talk about how much they learned in Core A with their children. And that's what's so great about learning: We can do it at any point in our lives.

    But, absolutely: Take advantage of outside resources if that will help.

    Great points, Cathy! Right on.

    ACsMama, true, there is something very valuable in learning how to teach. However, the education majors I talked with (including my wife) have tended to agree that mostly what it taught in education classes is classroom management... something homeschoolers really don't need. As for how to teach to a student's strengths and weaknesses, I believe parents have a huge advantage! We've been teaching these kids from day one <smile>. So, no, don't forsake all instruction and teaching tips, but don't worry about it either. If you notice a problem, definitely start researching.

    One more thing: Sonlight's Instructor's Guides come with notes and helps in this area, and you can find even more on the Homeschool Resources page.

    Nodding as I'm reading, Sarah. Good points! As for writing, however, the best writers learn by mimicking good writing and going beyond that (as my English teacher in high school stated: Who taught Shakespeare to write?). With a solid literature base like Sonlight, good writing can be natural outplay of working with it... one reason why Sonlight's Language Arts is so great!

    Agreed, Jenny <smile>.