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Are you qualified?

By Susan Wight

Somehow this question puts us on the back foot and we find ourselves mumbling, “Umm, well no I’m not a teacher…”

Why? Why do we give in to the assumption that we need some kind of certificate to ‘teach’ our own children?

I don’t believe we should, but somehow many parents suddenly feel unable to defend home education when this question is thrown at them.

When my son turned five, I handed him over to a school full of teachers qualified in primary teaching and accepted without question that they were better qualified than I was to teach him.

Over the next four years, I spent a lot of time in the classroom and my respect and belief in teachers declined. Through countless meetings with teachers, my faith in their authority, wisdom and knowledge was eroded. They told me what was best for my children based on a limited understanding of them in a set environment drawing on their training for what was ‘appropriate for all children’. They barely knew my children. My children were passed on to a new teacher each year with a sentence or two to sum them up. How much more I could have told them about who my children were – but I was “just a mum.”

Certainly all teachers are ‘qualified’ in the sense that they have been trained to teach large groups of children in the school system, but that doesn’t make them experts on learning or knowledge. There is a huge wealth of human knowledge, no one knows it all, and just because a teacher knows what’s on the curriculum and how to teach it, doesn’t make them an expert in learning.

We are led to believe in the qualifications of people who have attended university or teachers’ college for the required length of time and to accept their opinion over our own. Sure there are some great teachers out there doing fabulous work, but there are also some shockers and the bulk of teachers lie somewhere in the middle.

As home educators, we haven’t had their classroom training and we aren’t trying to replicate what they do – we are helping children learn on a one-to-one basis in a family environment. That’s a very different learning environment to school and much of it is relationship based. The fact is that if you know something, you can help someone learn it and, even for what you don’t know, you can still assist someone else to learn it or help them find someone else who can.

By the time our children are five years old, we have five years on-the-job training in how this particular child learns. We know their strengths and weaknesses and personality almost as well as we know our own. We know how they like to learn. We know if they absorb things visually or pick up more from conversation. We know if they like to snuggle up on the bed and read with us or prefer to play board games. We know if they are talkers or prefer to listen. In school jargon, we know their learning style.

In fact we know so much about them that we don’t even know we know it – we undervalue our own qualifications because no one has given us a certificate for them. We know enough about how our pre-schoolers learn to let them get on with it, to talk to them companionably and help them if and when required.

Would a Bachelor of Education have made me a better Home Educator? I don’t believe so. In fact, it would make me more “teacherish” which may have rendered my home education far less effective. It might have alienated me from my children if I began to think I knew more about their learning than they did. I might have become more authoritarian and made arbitrary decisions about what was important for them to learn.

The fact is that we are not qualified to ‘teach’ our children in the accepted school tradition; but we are amply qualified to respectfully allow and assist our children to learn at home without the need for interfering teaching – and, to me, that is worth infinitely more than a framed certificate on the wall.

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