A Year in Review, Part Two: Tips for the Teacher

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In one of last month’s posts, I reviewed several aspects of our last school year—our schedule, our curriculum, my methods—and pointed out certain elements that did and didn’t work for us. This time, I want to focus on how I hope to adjust my mindset as a teacher.

As I’ve mentioned in another post, this past school year was an emotionally tough one for me. One of my frequent struggles is the feeling that our school days—and our days in general—are not what they should be. I have a particular idea of how things should be, and if I don’t live up to it, I’m pretty much failing in my own mind. In my more reasonable moments, I can see that I’m too idealistic and perfectionistic in my expectations. But while actually in the trenches of teaching, it can be easy to get distracted by all the things that seem critical at the moment, even when they really aren’t.

As this past year came to a close, I think I finally began to get a better grasp on reality. Here are a few of the truths I’m trying to take more to heart in the current school year.

1) It’s okay to take shortcuts sometimes.

Having grown up as a homeschooler myself, my idea of what a homeschool mom should be is heavily informed by my own mother. Whatever her flaws might have been, one thing that impresses me is how much time and detail she gave us kids individually. Every day she would correct our work, discuss our errors, read over our new lessons with us, and write all our assignments down on a little notebook to help us keep track. And she did this for at least 4-5 of us, separately, for as long as I can remember. Every day!!

I, on the other hand, have almost never written down assignments for my kids. There are often days when I get behind and postpone correcting the girls’ work for the day. On such days, I usually don’t even go over their next assignments…I just tell them to do the next lesson in their books and let me know if they have any questions. Comparing this to what my mom did, or what I hear some moms are doing (going into all-out classroom mode), my efforts look pretty shabby.

But what I’m beginning to realize is that there are many different ways to do homeschooling, and that you have to make it work for you, not the other way around. There is no requirement that detailed instruction and correction needs to happen every day. Some families never do it that way in the first place! And no matter what method we use, I’m sure we all take shortcuts on a busy day. There is, of course, a limit to how much we can cut before we start sacrificing the quality of our child(ren)’s education, but we are not obligated to keep to a particular schedule or system all the time.

2) There’s still plenty of time left to learn [xyz].

In the course of our schooling, there are often occasions when I wish we had more time to go into the details of a history story, or to read more about our subject in science, or to do the fun crafts and experiments and activities that are suggested alongside our work for the day. I find myself wondering how many children’s novels we can cram into our year, because they’re all just so good! Or as achievement tests approach, I suddenly realize that I’ve never taught them about World War I, or the function of the liver, or the meaning of the word “eloquent.”

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that there is more time to delve into the details and explore our individual interests. But there will never be enough time to do it all, and there is only so much that a child’s brain and attention span can take at once. When I’m tempted to try to pack too much into the school year, I have to take a deep breath and remember that I still have eight more years before my oldest finishes high school. That is plenty of time to give my kids a well-rounded education. Plus, they will continue to learn in college and beyond—over a lifetime! So really, the most important thing is to instill in them the desire and ability to learn for themselves.

3) I am a mom first, a teacher second.

One of the downsides of teaching for me is that it tends to bring out my strict side. I am not normally a very strict person, but when there is something that must be done, I want it to get it out of the way ASAP. I hate having to bark out orders all the time, but it often seems necessary if we want to get anything accomplished.

When my mind is consumed by my to-do list, I can get so wrapped up in it that I forget to take time to have fun, relax, and talk with my kids. This is the direction to which I am more naturally inclined, but I can tend to feel guilty for not being “productive enough” and drive myself and them to do more. I have to remember that my kids need my focus as a mom and not just a drill sergeant.

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One thing we’ve done more recently is playing board games together as a family; one of my favorite activities, and fun for the kids, too! I’m trying to spend more focused time with the preschooler, which, consequently, helps him behave better the rest of the day since he’s not so desperate for attention. And I’m trying to deal with squabbles and behavioral problems more thoroughly, rather than doling out a quick punishment or a lecture. Being my kids’ parent is even more important than being their teacher. If I have to skimp a little on one area, it should not be the one that strengthens relationships and builds character.

These are a few of the points I hope to keep in mind as the school year progresses. I hope they can be helpful to you as well!

-Jessica

Photo Credit: Pictures courtesy of author.  Graphic design by Anna Soltis. 

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