Why Parents Have It Better Than Professionals

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She reminds me of my wife right out of college, only with glasses and darker hair. She's friendly and seems happy enough to chat. "But I may fall asleep," she warns me. "I'm exhausted."

I am too. We're on a "red-eye" flying to Denver.


Red-Eye Flight

She tells me she's a teacher. She took over a 2nd grade classroom in January due to illness in the original teacher's family. The kids, she confides, were initially "hell." Little wonder, for over a month they had been subjected to substitutes and inconsistency. It took her a while, but they eventually settled into her routine and began to behave appropriately again.

She bubbled about how cool it was to have iPads for every student in her classroom. I asked her about the study that showed technology didn't actually aid learning. She hadn't heard.

She mentions that next year her class will be switching to the National Core Standards. It will save her some prep time, and she won't have to adjust as much as the other teachers who have been using their lesson plans for years. Speaking of lesson plans, she's still figuring out how to create hers. Administration wants them a week in advance, but that's difficult for her.

How do we, as parents, have it better than professional teachers?

Three things come to mind immediately:

  1. We work with the same kids from birth. No adjustment periods.
  2. We use the tools we know work with our students. And if the curriculum doesn't, we can change it up.
  3. If we choose, all of our planning can be done for us. We tweak as needed, but our lesson plans are already in place.

The lesson plans thing continues to mystify me. Why are we so ready to "leave education to professionals" when those very professionals are so often thrown into situations for which they have almost zero time for preparation?

Since the school year has wound down--for the most part--how was your year? Mind leaving a review of the homeschool curriculum package you used this year?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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2 Responses to Why Parents Have It Better Than Professionals

  1. Bruce says:

    Many researchers have found that technology has little benefit on learning, but those studies usually show the results of poor administration and implementation. For example, the study you cited from Peruvian schools involved laptops given to schools where "Internet access was practically non-existent." Instead of giving students access to the internet, "the laptops were pre-loaded with about 200
    age-appropriate e-books selected by the government." No wonder the computers had little impact.

    Most homeschool parents can probably attest to the tremendous wealth of educational opportunities provided by the Internet. The key thing to understand, though, is the Internet is a resource to improve good teaching. The researchers involved in the Peruvian study complained, "to improve learning in Math and Language, there is a need for high-quality instruction. From previous studies, this does not seem the norm in public schools in Peru, where much rote learning takes place."

    Some of the things I appreciate about Sonlight are the emphases on critical thinking and cultural awareness. My doctoral research was in the area of cognitive development, and I've seen how engagement in discussion leads to learning; Sonlight uses that concept in great ways. As Sonlight's website says of its curricula, "Sonlight minimizes the prep work and maximizes the time you have for discussions with your children about issues that matter to you...." Sonlight encourages consideration of other viewpoints and the big questions of life. That makes for good education.

    I can agree that parents have it better than teachers, but that's largely because teachers aren't treated as professionals. As a teacher, I am constantly faced with mandates from the educational bureaucracy and legislatures that go against quality teaching. In my school district, for example, the bureaucracy recently admitted that a 5-year $25million contract with a consultant was a waste of money. After the district imposed mandates advised by the consultant, test scores didn't budge. So, the district has moved on to a new strategy. Yet, all the requirements imposed over the last 5 years are still in place. Even though the district admits the new mandates were ineffective, not one requirement has been repealed. Instead, we have more, new requirements added onto the old. That is how government works.

    The US has tens of thousands of pages of laws because laws are almost never repealed. Instead, new laws are added. The list of requirements grows. Confusion grows. Contradiction grows. This is true whether we're talking about the tax code or public school teaching.

    Teachers are told what to do by people who often know little about what teachers do. The US Secretary of Education, for example, has never been a teacher.

    Compare the normal public school system with the administration of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. I have experience in an IB program, and it's among the best curricula in the world. Not surprisingly, the IB program has many similarities with Sonlight. The IB Organization describes its program this way: "IB programmes promote the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge. By focusing on the dynamic combination of knowledge, skills, independent critical and creative thought and international-mindedness, the IB espouses the principle of educating the whole person for a life of active, responsible citizenship."

    Importantly, the IB program is led by teachers. In IB, teachers are considered professionals. The same is true for teachers in Finland, the nation whose education system has become a benchmark for American politicians. And the same is true for college professors. While the US's K-12 system is considered mediocre, at best, the US's higher education system is respected worldwide. The best educational systems in the world treat teachers as professionals and expect professionalism from teachers.

    Unfortunately, America's K-12 system is a product of the political landscape. Rules, policies and standards are set by politicians. Teachers are merely cogs in the apparatus.

    I'm a happy homeschool parent, using Sonlight, not because I don't want to leave education to the professionals, but because I want my kids to receive the best education possible. In my environment, that is using Sonlight at home. And I made that decision as both a parent and a professional.

  2. Luke says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all this, Bruce! Great points. And, I totally hear you with the whole "not treated as professionals" thing (something I fear Core Standards is further going to create). I am surprised at how little regard is given to teachers who are tossed into difficult situations. The girl on the plane is the second teacher I've spoken with who was given virtually no prep time to create lesson plans for the year. Crazy!

    And I'm certainly not against technology or using computers where appropriate. I've even launched my own personal Filmmaking 101 course on the internet <smile>. So, technology can be a great learning aid. The point is that it's a tool. And the more powerful the tool, the greater the potential for great gains or serious damage. I'm thinking of, say, a power saw. Speeds up cutting wood, but it can also cut off your fingers. Tossing technology into a classroom with a teacher not given time to prepare and trusting that will benefit students feels foolish to me. If a teacher decided that, based on his or her lesson plans and goals, technology would aid this or that aspect of the classroom... cool. But I'm a bit put off by the trust in technology so often displayed. I get the sinking feeling that some fingers are getting chopped off...

    My impressions.

    Thanks for your detailed and insightful comment! I love when people, like you, who have more insider information take the time to share <smile>. Much appreciated.

    ~Luke

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