Wednesday, October 31, 2012

She Was Passionate About Them All...

"No longer could I say “That’s stupid” to new thoughts, because my main teacher loved to learn. No longer could I resist new challenges, because she wouldn’t let me off the hook. I was still the slowest and glummest of math students, but I quickly caught her sense of wonder. Insects, the lymph system in the human body, the flamboyant personality of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the location of Bandar Sari Begawan: she was passionate about them all."

This article was posted by a college friend who is currently a global conference on education. I really 

appreciated that the person's story involved both formal instruction from a teacher and homeschooling. 
Clearly, she learned different, but equally valid lessons from both types of education. She is someone who 
is passionate about lifelong learning!   

If I had more time I'd expand on the library as a candy store idea that she talks about because the more 
I broaden my reading categories (mostly thanks to my husband) the more I see that as an apt metaphor. 
Actually, I'll just file that away as a future blog post :)   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Unlearning My Degree

Since we started looking into homeschooling I have heard people say over and over again, "Oh, well that'll be cinch for you since you have a degree in teaching. I am not a natural teacher, so I'd be terrible at that."

Sadly, everything I've read says just the opposite. The seasoned homeschoolers say that I have farther to go because I have to unlearn a lot of my en masse teaching methods. So if you are reading this and do not have a teaching degree, you are better prepared for a lifetime of homeschooling than me! Lucky you :)    

This was confirmed once again as I got a disappointing phone call this evening about a teaching opportunity I thought I might have for next year. I was hoping to get our oldest in a once a week, 8 child max,  3 hour class with either me teaching that class or at least teaching 4 and 5 year olds. The woman over this particular program said that corporate strongly encourages them to find people who have at least one year of homeschooling experience. I explained that while my oldest is only 3, I taught for 3 years prior to having her thinking that would somehow boost my teaching appeal. Not so much. She tried to politely explain what I already knew... it would be best if I didn't mention that I had prior experience in teaching; it's a disadvantage to those who start out homeschooling. 

Believe it or not, I understand where she's coming from because the way you give individual instruction is not the way you give it 30 children. The way you choose curriculum for an individual is not how you choose it for 30 children. However, it got me wondering where there was a crossover in the two schooling philosophies because while I understand I am learning a different way of teaching, I don't think it's beneficial to throw the baby (the gift of teaching) out with the bathwater (a teaching degree/classroom experience). So I pose a question to you readers... 

If you came from a public/private school background which larger classroom techniques and philosophies would be beneficial for someone to homeschool?

If you came from a homeschool background which larger classroom techniques and philosophies would be helpful to save for other venues where direct instruction is not the main source of teaching? 

I am even wondering if there are some of you who think the whole premise is wrong (i.e. teaching is teaching no matter where you are). 

Would love to see some thoughtful comments about this from all backgrounds.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rearranging Fall Break and Other Testing Pressures

This article came out in today's newspaper about shifting around the county's school days to either shorten Fall Break to give more to Thanksgiving Break or completely take away the standard 5 days for Fall Break and make the school year start later. 

For those of you not from around here, our school system has a bit of a bad track record with superintendents failing to live up to their high-salaried expectations. I've been out of teaching since the new one has come in, but he used to be my middle school principal, so I hope for the county's sake a local choice (as opposed to the previous ones that were farmed in) was the right choice for his position.     

That being said, the article came to my attention because of the questions it raises about the philosophy of teaching (surprise, surprise!). 

Teaching to the Test vs. Life-Long Learning

Grumpy, antsy kids. Several of my teacher friends and one in the article cited this as a problem with no fall break. I hear from my teachers friends that the kids have trouble staying focused when school breaks are compromised or eliminated, but the article states "all three calendar proposals add three extra days of instruction. That's precious time needed by teachers, officials say, especially given pressure to meet testing benchmarks." The teacher that was quoted said, "We need the time with the kids, especially with all the testing and requirements. You need as many of those days as you can get."

Sadly, these quotes show that the long term goal for the children is not lifelong learning. When kids can't focus they can't savor. Instead they usually shut down and/or lower the quality of their work. All that was presented in this article was talk of more instruction for the sake of high stakes testing, not more instruction for students to gain lasting knowledge they can use and connect to other things. I get the impression that teachers are being coerced and manipulated into wanting these extra days because their performance is tied to testing. What a shame. For all the hard work teachers do above and beyond academics, they deserve better than that kind of fear and pressuring.     

Going Full Steam Ahead vs. Time to Process Thoughts and Emotions  

On the days where my class just kind of stalled out with this nebulous air of collective teenage moodiness, I would have given anything for the freedom to drop the lesson and just spend the day talking with students about what was going on in their lives. I intuitively knew it would be more productive for my students --  to boost morale and regain focus -- but unfortunately, I would have never gotten through my curriculum, so I pushed back, often with mixed or failed results. As one Facebook respondent to the article said, "Adding days doesn't mean you add instruction. It simply means kids are in the building more." I'm inclined to agree, especially when those days are laden with the pressure to cram, cram, cram. When officials want to squeeze every minute for testing or instruction, they lose sight of what's best for everyone -- a moment to breath and process.     

A friend of mine who is a teacher said, "I NEEDED that week off to catch up physically, mentally, and emotionally from the work of the year."

The Value of Family Time

My first year of teaching, we took our honeymoon during the week of Fall Break. Getting to see Maine during peak season is an image I'll never forget. Now every year we get to enjoy the bright leaves in October -- a breathtaking experience wherever we travel to! I know for my friends that have kids in the school system or who are teachers, they seem to be saying they cherish that extra family time, too. Having a whole week ensures they have weekends on both sides to extend that special time together. Another friend commented on my Facebook that her daughter "needs that break just to play and be a child without the worries of school. By the end of the [break] she is ready and excited to go back and focus." Families want more time to be consistent teachers to their children and enjoy them away from life's general stresses.   

I realize that the solutions to these issues are never simple and you'll never be able to please everyone, but we need to keep the main things the main things -- strong learners (not crammers), strong thinkers (not burnouts), and strong families (not exasperated parents and students). As a former teacher, it is my heart's desire to see a school system that prioritizes those things over high stakes testing.             

Thursday, October 18, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different...

It's amazing what you can find when you type in "philosopher meme" into Google image search... We had the Willy Wonka instrumental medley played as the exit music for our wedding, so he had to make an appearance eventually :) But I digress...  

I'm taking a slight break from the the "my story" series to ask you all what kind of content you would like to see on this blog. Since I have the series in multiple drafts right now, I'd like to plan ahead and keep my eyes open for things you want to see. I would really like some feedback on what educational issues are important to you. These topics can be geared toward philosophy, faith, homework, testing, public/private/homeschool -- whatever -- as long as it is about the idea of education. And if it's not too rant-y or political, I'm totally open to guest posts!     

I have some initial ideas like reviewing some educational philosophy books (trust me..some of them will get you talking!), articles I find, or even analyzing a quote, question, or comment from you all, but would love to have both broader AND specific suggestions. Is there some aspect of education you would like me to find articles on or discuss? Is there something that has been gnawing at you that you want readers to address? I feel like my perspective of having been raised and taught in the classroom, but now homeschooling gives me a unique balance of understanding both the world of the classroom and my own "new school".  

The comment box, my Twitter account, my Facebook page, private message box (in case you want me to address something, but remain anonymous) are open for suggestions! Can't wait to hear your great ideas!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Education: Growing Up Public School (Part 1)

Since I've given you a preview of the type of content I will have on the blog, you might want to know my educational back story for context. Some of you have been with me on parts of my educational journey, some of you have been there all the way from the start. Yet I think if you look at the brief outline of went-to-public-school, taught-in-public-school, is-now-homeschooling-for-the-foreseeable-future -- you're probably scratching your head and raising a lot of questions (i.e. What would possess someone to change course like that? Does she hate public school now? Is she another religious nut? Did someone brainwash her? Does she disapprove of everyone else's school choice now? What is she implicitly saying about my parenting?). I foolishly thought I was going to do this in one post, but the more I started thinking about it, I realized it would be more helpful if I presented it in a series. That way some of the good stuff wouldn't make it to the cutting room floor because I was afraid no one would read a 230523053 word blog post. 

If you could look at my Kindergarten yearbook from 1990 you would see a picture of me reading to my classmates. With that kind of start, how could I be anything other than an English teacher? I was born to teach and talk. In fact, my parents could show you many report cards where my grades suffered at the hands of my busy mouth (imagine that!). As the years went by, I saw how much I was drawn to grammar and vocabulary in my language arts classes. When I did book reports I always scoured the thesaurus on Word to see if I could make my paper better than my classmates by sprinkling a few ten dollar words hither and thither ;) If I could read those papers now I would see how awkward I was as a 7th grader trying to successfully use words like "jovial" and "buoyant" instead of plain ol' happy. I also kept coming back to the fact that I learned best through stories (my husband still says that I can latch onto themes and grasp concepts better in analogy vs. just reading facts). So... all this led up to my junior year in high school. I was taking Latin and desperately falling in love with etymology. I also had an honors English teacher that lit a fire under me with her infectious, quirky personality and obvious love of learning. After her AP class senior year, I was sure that that being an English teacher in the public schools was my calling. Seriously, I had these grandiose visions of being the female "Mr. Kotter" -- the witty and wise-crackin' teacher who was a friend, yet adult voice to the students. Ha! 

To this day, I am still so grateful to her and the other teachers who helped me not only savor schooling, but helped me see my learning potential through their constant encouragement each school day. If I could steal money from Hamilton County and clone some of those precious, devoted teachers, I would in a heartbeat.  

Here's where the story gets interesting... As you can tell, I was 100% public school all my life and pretty much loved it. Almost my entire youth group was made up of kids exclusively from my high school. I had virtually no exposure to any alternative methods of school and neither did any of my friends. Imagine my shock when I went to Bryan College where 1/3 of the students were HOMESCHOOLED. Both of my roommates were homeschooled and most of my closest friends on campus were homeschooled. We're talking like 70% of my close friends were homeschooled. And then I fell in love with Justin who was, you guessed it, homeschooled. I think I must have had a sign on my back that said "Befriend me if you were homeschooled". Seriously, how did this happen that almost everyone that had become near and dear to me were homeschooled? It was like some kind of contagion... 

At the end of my junior year, Justin and I started dating with marriage in mind. Both of our parents were supportive of us getting married, but my parents were concerned Justin was going to force me to homeschool our kids and my in-laws were concerned that I was going to send our kids to public school without having given thought to homeschooling*. By senior year we were engaged and I was in the middle of a great student teaching placement at my old high school (getting to regularly see some of my inspiring teachers again) and I bluntly told to Justin not to expect me to homeschool our kids when there were so many good teachers in the world.

I got a teaching job in my home county the summer after graduation and was excited to finally have the opportunity to do what I felt God had led me to do. See how it ended up in Part 2... 

Okay.. my dresses were never that big :)  
*Just to let you know...Both of our parents have been SUPER supportive of everything we have done. We have received nothing but love from them for our choices as a married couple. Just pointing out where the different backgrounds occurred though.   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stomaching science?

If you know me, you know science and I do not get along. Those charts and graphs on the science sections of the ACT always got the best of me and I never forgave them for ruining my otherwise stellar scores in reading and English. However, I got this story in a e-mail from a curriculum designer and it just reinforced my desire for my kids to be lifelong learners. Even if they said something scientific like this to me, I would be ecstatic! (The comments in italics below the mom's story are from the curriculum designer). 
"We are just finishing up our plant experiments. Last night I was in a hurry so I opened a can of Chinese food for supper. When my 9-year-old son saw his plate, he yelled, "Mom!" grabbed something off his plate and ran across the kitchen to show me. This is the boy who rarely takes the time to look at his food and barely has it in his mouth long enough to taste it. "Look, Mom! Cotyledons in my food!" Sure enough, there attached to a bean sprout were the cotyledons. Not to be outdone, my 7-year-old daughter searched her plate and yelled, "I found some cotyledons, too!" I decided to go with the flow and asked them what the long stringy part attached to the cotyledons was. They identified the hypocotyl, then wondered what happened to all the roots. Digging through their food, they found several sprouts with the roots still attached. I no longer wondered if they had actually learned anything from working with the plants. I must say I have never before thought of canned Chinese food as educational."
Now, first thing: don't become upset that you don't know what cotyledons and hypocotyls are. They are technical terms the mom her kids learned to use as they studied how seeds grow into plants. But what caught my eye in this mom's story is how normal it is--or, certainly, ought to be--for children to take pleasure in being aware of their world.

Have any of you experienced a moment where you saw the light bulb come on for someone? 

I hope to be able to share similar stories of my own kids as they grow. I know I saw the light bulb come on with many of my high school students when we read particularly engaging literature. Nothing brought me more joy than to read some of their in-class journals -- to know some of them were really internalizing the story and applying to their own situations.   

Here it is!

I'm so excited about this blog! It's a project I have wanted to start for some time now, and have finally taken the time to get it started.

Three things you should know: 

1. As the name One Room Schoolhouse suggests, I have decided to only dedicate this blog to talking about the philosophy of education. Obviously, since I have a degree in Secondary Education, schooling is close to my heart. I will sprinkle stories of the kids and others so it won't be this super serious thing, but I will only include them as they pertain to philosophy of education. I don't want this to just be some Facebook extension of my life. I really want to chronicle the journey of education my family and I are on. 

2. That being said, I am unsure of how often I will update this blog. It could be a few times a week or it could be a month or two. Whatever strikes my fancy is how I am going to roll with this.     

3. Another goal for this blog is not to turn into this crazy dogmatic my-way-is-the-only-way to school. There's enough hateful rhetoric going around already and I realize that by going from a public school teacher to a full time homeschool mom that I have already raised eyebrows. I am interested in having an open dialogue with people if they disagree with my ideas, but please do not post hateful, rude, or profane comments on here. 

I hope this blog is an encouragement to many who want to foster lifelong learning in their children no matter where their schoolhouse is. My ultimate goal, however, is to get everyone thinking about their own philosophy of education no matter what age they are. You need to know what you think about schooling!