Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How Can a Non-Certified Parent Teach?

Good question! Thank you for asking.

What? You didn't? Well, may I answer anyway?

It's one of those questions homeschoolers hear frequently. What qualifies a parent to teach?

A parent is a teacher in my book.

Let me explain.

Without taking a course in shoe-tying, I was able to teach my kids to tie their shoes. Well- the big brothers and sisters taught Sam, and Pete is still working on it.

Also, they've all learned to use the toilet relatively well. I taught them. The boys learned how to aim at the cheerios in the toilet bowl, mostly, though I don't possess that skill myself.

I've also taught them to speak in English, how to use a fork, when to say please and thank you, how to ride a bike and drive a car (though not at the same time), how to pray, sing, cut and paste, make a pie, use the telephone, how to count, write their name, add their pennies. I could teach them these things because I knew how to do them. It was a matter of applying some self-discipline to myself to be patient and to find out how to communicate and model these skills to my kids. Was I always good at it? Definitely not. I lost my patience (more than) a few times when my kids wet their pants instead of using the potty, or wrote their names on the wall instead of on the paper or trashed the kitchen while making a pie. Parenting has been a learn-as-I-go experience and I've made plenty of mistakes in the execution of my duties. My resilient kids have mostly lived through it despite my failings and we'll see how they still feel about me when I'm old and feeble.

I also know how to read. I know the names of the letters and how they sound. With the help of a good program I was able to logically convey the concepts of phonics and reading to all my kids so that each one can now read. Same with spelling. Ditto with writing. I'm passing what I know on to them in the best way I can, whether it's baking a pie or reading a book. I don't always do my best job, I'm not always patient but my kids have learned to read and write despite my failings.

That is teaching.

But stay with me!

I hope no one is getting steamed at my proud pontification. I must think teachers are useless, right? I'm disrespecting and dissing them with my self-serving interpretation of what a teacher is. No. Please no!

Just because I can make the claim that I can teach my kids how to read, (because I did!) that doesn't in anyway bring down what a classroom teacher in a school does as easy enough for anyone to do! Not at all! I may be able to teach my child because I know what kind of a learner he is and I know his talents and his shortcomings better than anyone else. I can discipline him if need be because he is my kid (unlike other people whose hands are relatively tied when dealing with other people's children)... but that doesn't mean I am skilled to teach a room full of someone else's children. Professional teachers go to college for good reason- to learn how to convey their knowledge to a group of children of different abilities and intelligence -effectively- and collectively- as well as to learn how to deal with lots of other things in a school that as a teaching parent I don't have to deal with in my own home. I have great respect for individuals who skillfully educate groups of young people, engaging them and molding them and doing it day after day. It is a noble profession. Both of my husband's parents were teachers. My mother-in-law taught eight grades at once in a one room rural schoolhouse. She was certainly someone to respect and admire!

So please, don't assume that because I want to teach my own children myself, that I have a low opinion of professional teachers. I respect good teachers and admire them very much.

And I know there is at least one more question (only one?) about the parent-teaching stuff that is just burning to be answered:

How does a parent teach difficult subjects like algebra and chemistry?

Good question!

So far, everything my kids have learned in school, I learned in school too. Do I remember everything I learned in school? No way. Not even close. School was a looooong time ago. I've probably forgotten more than I remember. But I did learn it once. I can learn it again if I have to. I can tell you that I have learned more (often over and over and over again) in my years of homeschooling than all that my kids have learned put together!

So if I have to learn it again (algebra) I do. Hopefully though, I don't have to. I can get help. And I do! My oldest daughter helped her sister get through her first year of algebra. This year, Alyssa is taking geometry through an online school. The course uses geometry software and the teacher even has a white board and audio classes. Cool, man!

Biology and chemistry are being taught by a homeschooling family in town to groups of homeschoolers. They have labs. They have excruciating tests. They do AP level work. And it is still homeschooling!

Today, Alyssa had difficulty with an equation conversion for chemistry. Time to sharpen my brain!...I could come up with what the equation should be but since my brain wilts and recoils at high school math I couldn't tell her how I came up with the equation. I'm definitely lacking as a high school math teacher. I fully confess to that. But this was an important concept for her to get even if I couldn't because she will need it for the rest of the course. was time to Phone A Friend! Or in this case...a brother. A brother who is currently an electrical apprentice and doing lots and lots of math in his own schoolwork (and doing it well, I might add, despite never having been in the public school system.)

And this is what homeschoolers do....they use resources to help them teach their own children.

Did I answer the question? Clear as mud?

Any more questions about homeschooling? Only thousands? Okay. I'm happy to answer if I can, one or two at a time.

Shoot 'em at me!


  1. I've never commented here, but I just wanted to say thank you for this post because even though I was home-schooled and graduated from college with honors, I'm getting a lot of flack (MIL)about homeschooling my kids.And A LOT of it is implied that I don't know what I'm doing. I have to be really nice and not comment on how my husband and his brother hated school so much that neither of them could stand the thought of higher education, whereas in my family, all of us who are old enough have graduated college. I'm going to remember this explanation and use it next time!

  2. Hi Terra! Thank for the comment.
    Flak from the in-laws is probably in the top three of problems homeschoolers face. Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with that. I had in-laws who were heartily supportive, but I hear about such trials very often.

    By the grace of God, they will come around when they see the results of your loving efforts. Best wishes to you!

  3. I get that question a great deal. Don't you have to be certified with the state to teach? No, in our state you only need a high school diploma. Jaws drop, eyes pop and incoherent mumblings begin. I thank God everyday for thorough teacher's editions, lesson plans, co-ops, satellite classes, etc. Believe me, I know my limits and call on others to help when it's necessary. My son asked to finish his senior year in public school in order to play sports and take Honors Physics. Yes, HONORS PHYSICS. We were happy to oblige him on that one.

    You're so good at this. Can't wait to read your next "installment".

  4. My daughter has started Algebra 1 this year and without the Teaching Textbook series to help her learn, we would both be crying. Homeschoolers can be a resourceful bunch.

  5. And it all works!

    Differences make the world go 'round.

    Also, I think it is important to carefully and succinctly answer people's questions when they don't understand how homeschooling could possibly work. Our continued educational freedom is dependent on the support of our community, state, and nation as a whole. It is up to homeschoolers to foster that support.

  6. From the other side of the ocean - the question of teaching qualification, so ably answered by Pam, is not so much one of whether parents CAN teach, when obviously they do so by definition, but rather,whether certain entities could persuade them that they would not do so very well, so that said entities can then say that parents MAY not teach their children, thus acquiring the privilege of shaping those little lives. Parents, don't ever let anyone discourage you from bringing up your own children (that is, teaching them), even if they never learn algebra or physics, which are not essentials of life for everybody, unlike other things like good character and such. Once you acquiesce to the notion that parents can't teach "hard stuff" then you will find yourselves fighting simply to keep your children; it is happening all over.

  7. Spoken from experience!
    Thank you!


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