When a teacher admits, “I didn’t sign up for this”.

Education is a big deal for me.  Not the institution, but the actual learning.  I LOVE to learn.  About everything.  Mostly about how to learn.

Having graduated with a degree in Elementary Education, I was convinced that a “good education” was the answer to all of society’s problems, and I was about to inspire hundreds of children to go and fulfill their individual purposes in the world.

Then, at 22 years old, I began to teach in the classroom of a Title I public school in the U.S. and the scales fell from my eyes.  Nothing about educational psychology or philosophy or theory really mattered in a 5th grade classroom (year 6) of 25 students who came from different backgrounds, many of whom didn’t speak English, some of whom could barely read, and all of whom were required to “learn” test-taking skills for an exam that determined whether or not they could pass to the next grade (not to mention how much funding our school would receive). I could see glimpses of how uniquely each student was wired, but there was little time to affirm their personal strengths or interests, or to dig deeper into their personal stories, because we had work to “get done”.  

I loved my students, poured excessive amounts of time and my own money into planning engaging lessons, and still think about them often, but I was left embittered toward the system that I had put so much hope in. And I am not alone. Standardized testing, No Child Left Behind, the Common Core, the National Curriculum, etc. are causing our best teachers’ hands to be tied and leading them to become disenchanted instead of inspired.

According to psychologist, Dr. Naomi Fisher, learning in schools has become something students do simply because they are told to do so, and I would argue that teachers are made to teach specified content for the same reason. “This makes learning less fun, less productive and it also leaves teenagers unclear as to what they really enjoy and want to learn about.” It is certainly not what I envisioned for my classes when I set out to be a teacher, but it ended up being my reality.  My students were unmotivated, and saw little relevance in the content being learned.

(Dr. Naomi Fisher recently published Changing Our Minds. I highly recommend it if considering a self-directed learning approach to your home education.)

In a time where we desperately need our education system to liberate the hearts and minds of all our children, we are finding that the “gap” of inequality continues to grow because children are made to conform to one way, one narrative, one standard, with no bandwidth to create their own. I wish that I could go back, throw out all the “standards”, and simply get to know the hearts of my students, giving them the tools they needed to share their personal narrative with the world through their own gifts, interests, and desires.  

Akilah Richards, author of Raising Free People, explains that it is really only through self-directed learning that education can be completely equitable.   

I admire the researchers, administrators, and teachers who are making consistent, albeit small, gains to impact a mammoth institution like public education. They are inspirational and I have learned much from them. But how long do we wait for the system to change?  Especially if it concerns the children in our own homes today?  

Top selling books on how to (supposedly) be a successful teacher have titles like: “Running the Room”, “Take control of the noisy classroom”, “The Fun Teachers Toolkit”.  “The Teacher Toolkit: Helping you Survive your first 5 years.”, “The Resilient Educator: Empowering Teachers to Overcome Burnout and Redefine Success.” and “Motivate the Unmotivated”.  Should “survival” ever be a word used to describe an authentic learning experience?  I wanted so much more than to just be able to “control” my students for 30 years until retirement. Was it too much to ask?

When it came time to make the decision as to how our own children would be educated, we wanted a learning experience where we could all thrive, not merely survive, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were not alone. Home educating families now number in the hundreds of thousands across the globe, and have the perfect platform to implement the most effective learning methods right now.  Today.  No waiting for policy reform, no worrying about curriculum correlation, no complaining about the lack of funding for our learning (well, maybe that).

While the vast majority of parents will continue to send their children to school, the rest of us set out to do this hard thing.  As home educators, we watch our children, listen to them, learn how they are wired and, year after year, we fan the flame of curiosity as we (and they) discover more about who they were created to be.  

If you are considering whether or not home education is the best option for your family, know that the journey can be a daunting one and sometimes a difficult one to joyfully sustain. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you might have.

If you are a disillusioned teacher, don’t fret!  Your time has not been wasted, but there may be a more effective and joy-filled way for you to inspire children through education!  Check out the listings at Progressive Education for alternatives to the mainstream school system. There are thousands of schools popping up around the world that are using best practices like self-directed and democratic learning instead of curriculum-based instruction.    

Will you join me on what will surely be a journey of faith, risk, and adventure for the sake of our children?

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