Each year, before the first day of school arrives, many teachers begin a process of reflection (we often do this at the end of the year also). We ask ourselves a lot of questions: How can I better serve my students? How can I help the students who struggle tear down the barriers that prevent them from having the best learning experience possible? Did I do enough? I suspect that parent-teachers also go through a similar, if not identical, process. Teaching is a profession/passion that is at once exhilarating, immensely rewarding, and terrifying. Why terrifying? Because what we do in our homes and classrooms will make impressions that endure and what we fail to do will almost always have consequences.
And on the Day of Judgment, we will be questioned.
The other day, while discussing the benefits of homeschooling with another teacher, a few of those benefits stuck out, and I wanted to share them with you. I do this because, sometimes, homeschooling parents run into a wall of doubt and begin asking themselves, "Can I really do this?" After all, you have decided to take a responsibility that is often delegated to certified teachers and do it yourself. So in this post, I want to take a moment to reassure you that, yes, oh yes, you most certainly can do this in shaa' Allaah.
But first, let me say that I value good teachers immensely, and I think the work they do is invaluable. Admittedly, I am biased, but still....good teachers are incredible. However, I think that parents who homeschool are awesome. Why? Read on to hear five things homeschooling parents can do that teachers often cannot (the reasons we cannot accomplish the things on the upcoming list would make this post terribly long, so they will not be discussed). But on to the list of what you, a parent-teacher, can do that teachers in a traditional school often cannot (but wish we could).
One of the most wonderful moments in the classroom is when children beg you to keep teaching a topic. Others, called "teachable moments," occur when we see an opportunity to teach a different (sometimes not directly related) idea, concept, or issue to children. These moments often happen as we are teaching and a child asks a thoughtful question that has implications and benefits we just can't let slip by. Those are exceptional moments because the children are deeply invested in their learning. Why? Because we are teaching them something in which they are truly interested. After all, they asked the question because they genuinely wanted to know the answer. Sadly, due to time restrictions, we cannot always take advantage of those teachable moments and we can't keep teaching a topic, even when the class is pleading for us to do so. But you can.
As a parent-teacher who has made the choice to homeschool, you can meander through a topic and delve into it as much as needed or desired. Your child, under your guidance, can savour the sweetness of a topic for as long as his or her interest dictates. You can teach a plethora of relevant vocabulary words about a topic; you can link topics to science, literature and math; you can spend weeks allowing your child to absorb information about a subject in which they are truly interested. They can move effortlessly and willingly from surface learning to learning that develops critical thinking skills and is in-depth and powerful. These things happen in the classroom, but it's different. We teach vocabulary, we link subjects to others, we try to help children do more than just surface learning, but we can only spend so much time on each subject. We have a curriculum to cover in a limited amount of time. You don't. Appreciate that blessing and take advantage of it.
In the classroom, we do many, many things to capture and maintain students' interest and attention. At the beginning of the year, teachers spend time getting to know what their students like, what interests them most, and how they learn best, but realistically, we cannot tailor each and every unit to each and every child's personal interests. We do not have the time to make the same resource with different themes, for example. So, although a child may have absolutely no interest in dump trucks, he or she will learn a certain topic that is being taught using a dump truck theme. This, in my humble opinion, is not a bad thing. It is essential that children learn flexibility and that they are exposed to different topics and Islaamically appropriate ideas; however, those children who fall behind or struggle or seem to have a difficult time focusing may benefit from learning that is based on their interests.
In the homeschool environment, time is as valuable and important as it is in the classroom, but there are no signals that dictate to teachers and students that a particular class has ended and the start of a new subject must begin. If your child is struggling to blend consonant clusters, needs a bit more time with digraphs, requires more scaffolding with decomposing numbers, you don't have to push your child forward. You can patiently sit back and reteach or you can spend whatever number of days the child needs to clearly and completely understand a topic. Mastery is essential and pushing children ever forward when they scarcely understand what they have been taught is a great disservice that we must do our best to avoid committing in shaa' Allaah.
There is very often no reason a parent should feel pressured to move ahead when their child needs more time on a subject. Ensuring your child has a solid understanding of the essential skills is key, and if your child needs more time, khayr in shaa' Allaah. Of course, this does not mean that one should not establish and adhere to a schedule that facilitates completing a curriculum within a certain timeframe, but if you are a week, two weeks, or three weeks behind your original schedule, do not take this as a reason to panic.
Is there a teacher who does not wish to do this? I sincerely hope not, but research says that most children enter school excited about learning, eager to learn, and confident that they will simply love and enjoy the experience. And then...
And then, by grade 4, research indicates that most children say they hate school. Many have had their self-esteem shattered, too many feel like failures, too many have been labeled struggling readers, too many feel that they are incapable of learning; they have been led to believe they are stupid. By grade 4, far too many children no longer love knowledge and they do not look forward to learning. For them, learning and knowledge have come to represent humiliation and failure. Allaahul musta'3an.
And then there is the homeschool classroom...
From day one (yes, I mean the very day your child is born), you can begin the process of instilling a love of knowledge and learning in your child. How? By joyfully approaching your infant as they surface from sleep, speaking gently and lovingly to him or her as you lift them from the crib and announce, "After you eat we will listen to the Quran in shaa' Allaah." Each day of your child's life, you can show him or her the ayaat of Allaah and under the umbrella not of a curriculum, but the Quran and authentic Sunnah, you can teach your child that learning and knowledge are sweet and joyful.
Each interaction with your child is an opportunity to instill a love of knowledge in him or her. Your enthusiasm, your patience, your kind, encouraging words, your willingness to walk with your child as he or she works to understand a concept, and your utter and complete respect for your child's learning style communicates that learning is absolutely fun, knowledge undeniably sweet.
Many teachers try their best to do this, but you, the homeschooling parent-teacher, have a better chance of preventing your child from being among those who have been the victims of a great and unspeakable crime: they have had their love of learning slowly and, too often, painfully extinguished by...
a well-meaning teacher,
constantly searching for more...
The next time doubt begins to slitter its way up your spine, whispering 'maybe you can't do this', come back and read this post.
May Allaah grant you success on your journey