Thursday, August 25, 2011

He Said/She Said #2 - How Has Your Teaching Changed?

"He Said/She Said" is a new feature here at The Homeschool Apologist.  It started when Linda and Arby met for the first time.   Today we present our first reader submitted topic.  It came from The Boss. She wrote:

Since you've both got a number of years of homeschooling under your belt, Arby is starting his 8th year and Linda's starting her *phlwash* th year, I'd like to know what you've significantly changed from the first year (or two) to now. For example, if an unnamed HS dad never wrote out lesson plans or organized early on but now finds himself writing out entire years and organizing history lessons to coincide with certain times of the year, that would be a significant change. I'm curious...

She Said:

Where do I begin?

Let’s start with the obvious. 

First, I was 28 then.  I’m 48 now. 

My hair was brown then.  Now it’s gray.

I was short then.  And…well…I’m still short. 

Okay, so not everything has changed.  But the fact is, in the 20 years since my homeschooling journey began, there HAVE been many significant changes in how I homeschool.  But more important than what has changed is the reality that I have changed.  And inevitably, it is the changes in me that have brought about the biggest changes in the way I homeschool. 

I’m older…and hopefully wiser.

I definitely apply more wisdom and “real world” experience to my teaching than I did when I was in my twenties.  I find that the decisions I make are more intuitive and less agonizing than they were back then. Consequently, I second-guess myself much less.

I’m more confident.

Age and wisdom have increased my confidence.  In the beginning, I was always looking for validation.  I wanted proof that what I was doing was working.  Today, I’m confident in my abilities and in the superiority of homeschooling.  And I never—and yes, I mean never—doubt the effectiveness of my homeschooling. 

I’m more relaxed.

I think this little truth has brought about the most significant change in how I “do” homeschool.  In so many ways, how I approach homeschooling—our schedule, our curriculum, actually, our whole life—is so much more relaxed than it was when my daughters were young.  Several factors—an unexpected (and difficult) pregnancy at 40, a new baby, and three moves—all within a period of 18 months—played a huge role in forcing me to realize that school happens, even when I can’t make it happen!  Life itself is learning.  When you’re with your children 24/7, you can’t help but teach them.  It just happens.  Of course I still teach very intentionally as well, but at times when that’s impossible, it’s okay.

I’m less rigid. 

When we first started homeschooling, I was pretty locked into my image of the perfect homeschool.  We always did school five days a week.  We always did every problem on every page.  We always finished every book.  We had a desk for everyone.  A schoolroom with stacks and stacks of books and resources.  Maps and penmanship posters on the walls.  An American flag in the corner and the pledge of allegiance every morning.  These days you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence that a homeschooler lives in my house.  Partly it’s because no longer have room for all that stuff.  But mostly it’s because I’ve realized that most of it is overkill.  At least for me.  Homeschool doesn’t rule my life anymore.  My life rules my homeschool. 

I’m more adventurous.

I used my first curriculum for 9 years.  I used my second curriculum for 10 years.   But in the last 2 years I’ve tried curriculum, methods, and resources that I never dreamed I would use.  I’m branching out.  I didn’t think I would ever do that.

Yes.  I’ve changed.  But despite the changes, I really don’t believe I’m a better homeschooler today than I was in 1990.  I’m just different.

He Said:

I know why The Boss asked this question.   She’s witnessed firsthand the single biggest change in my teaching over the past sixteen years.  Quite frankly, she’s surprised.   This year, more than any other year teaching either professionally or here at home, I’m lesson planning.   A lot.  I’m scheduling our work to not only insure that we cover all of our lessons in two 18 week semesters, but I am also organizing our material so that it makes more sense in the school year.   I’d love to share with you some pedagogical insight or fascinating educational theory to support this change in my teaching style, but I’ve never had much time for the Ivory Tower approach to education, either during college or since.   My reasons for planning or not planning a lesson are practical. 

I’ve never been much of a lesson planner in part because I was never taught how to write a lesson plan.  I graduated with honors from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a BA in the Teaching of English, and a complete lack of training for and practical experience in writing lesson plans.  That doesn’t say much for the university.   I never found this lack of experience detrimental to my teaching.  I never felt the need to plan my lessons for the same reason that I do not write outlines as a part of my writing process.  That’s not how my mind works.  My best instructional work came when I was thinking on my feet in front of a class.  I trusted my instincts, my knowledge, and the material at my disposal.  They served me well.  When I transitioned from classroom teacher to homeschool instructor, I stepped down from teaching high school English to teaching second grade everything.    I figured that if I couldn’t teach the second grade without elaborate planning, someone needed to shoot me. 

Our first year of homeschooling was a monumental challenge.  The fact that we survived to homeschool for seven more years is a miracle in itself.  When we started, General Mayhem was in second grade, Major Havoc was about to turn two years old, and Captain Chaos was four months old.   During our first month of homeschooling, back when we were so broke that we couldn’t afford to buy any curriculum and we scrabbled together whatever we could find for free, Captain Chaos was diagnosed with her heart defect, was hospitalized, and had surgery.  General Mayhem, confused and frightened concerning his sister, realized that we weren’t bluffing when we told him we decided to homeschool; consequently, he decided to be as uncooperative as possible in hopes that we’d abandon this homeschooling silliness and send him back to his beloved parochial school.  The Boss lived at the hospital five days a week.  I took weekends.  The Major was silently stressed beyond belief.   The boy did not talk at all, but he sure did scream.   When the girl came home two months later, every waking minute of each day was consumed with medicine, feeding schedules, therapy appointments and doctor visits.  We squeezed teaching into the gaps.  Three months later we moved across the state line to Kansas.   It was a good thing I could think on my feet and teach the second grade with an eclectic curriculum.  My experience provided the skills to navigate these rough waters.

Back when I was only teaching one child, I was correct about my need to lesson plan.  When the Boss and I came up with a wild idea of having more kids, we screwed up a perfectly good non-plan.  Throughout the years, reality dictated changes.  The girl is a healthy if not slightly delayed seven year old who just started first grade.  The Major is in 3 ½ grade.  He’s a happy and chatty eight year old boy.  The General is in his first year of high school.  As we’ve progressed from the perfect storm that was our first year of homeschooling to now I’ve learned a lot about what my children need.  Through trial-and-error, tears, frustration, disbelief, doubting, yelling, laughing, tremendous amounts of prayer, and a brief yet spectacular failed attempt at public schooling, I have learned that General Mayhem needs closely supervised, structured teaching.  That takes resources, good time management, and a lot of planning.  The more we plan, the better he performs.  Add two additional children in two different grades and without a carefully planned schedule, dad would lose his mind.
I’ve become a lesson planner out of necessity.  The first two days of this new school year still left me feeling like a plate spinner at the circus, but a well planned plate spinner.  There is no way that I can keep everything straight in my head.  I must have plans written down.   If truth be told, I’m not planning lessons as much as I am scheduling material into time slots each day.  We are blessed to be able to purchase our curriculum.  That makes life easier.  I use teacher’s guides when they are available, and when they add good material that isn’t found in the accompanying student’s book.  Every little bit helps.  

The Boss sees lesson planning as the biggest change in my teaching over the course of…yikes…fifteen years of teaching both professionally and here at home.   She’s correct.   I guess you can teach a young dog new tricks.     

If you have a question that you would like to see us answer, leave it in a comment or send us an email.  We'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. that was an interesting read. I can see me in both of you, and realize I've lots to learn yet. :)

  2. You're so right that as we go, we tend to get more relaxed and more confident - kind of funny how those two go hand in hand. I have also found that I tend to just "know" what my kids need to do next - that's the hardest thing to explain to a non-homeschooler I think...