One would think that springtime is a lovely time of year full of sunshine, fun, and celebration. The truth of the matter for many homeschool families is actually far different. For many of us, spring heralds allergy season, sleep deprivation from Daylight Savings Time, and a host of ceremonies celebrating various accomplishments and achievements. If you happen to have a graduating senior, just multiply your stress level by about ten. On top of all of this, every spring homeschool parents begin what I believe is the most stressful experience of the year: planning the next year.
At a time when most of us are grinding it out, just treading water and frankly wanting to throw away our math and spelling curricula, it’s now time to begin the salmon-swim of frenzied activity that sweeps over you like a tsunami. It’s time to decide what classes to take and what purchases to make for all of your children.
I remember starting out about twenty years ago, and the options were significantly fewer. Today I find myself experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) and FOBD (fear of a bad decision) in increasing measure.
I have made numerous bad decisions, and so today I want to share some things that I’ve found helpful when I’m considering farming out courses to others. My own children have experienced co-ops, paid tutors, paid classroom experiences, asynchronous online learning, and live online learning. Having served as a department chair responsible for hiring and evaluating teachers and now serving as a coordinator for a group of online teachers, let me share with you what YOU should look for in a teacher to minimize mistakes in your own homeschool in decding who should teach your kids .
Who Should Teach Your Kids?
Area 1 – Christian Worldview
How important is it to you that your child be taught by a Christian teacher? If this is important, make sure you look for a statement of faith or some indication that the course will be taught from a Christian worldview.
Area 2 – Educational Background or Content Knowledge
How much educational preparation does your teacher have FOR THE SUBJECT AREA you are considering? It isn’t enough just to trust that your teacher has the educational background for the subject. You should find out if your teacher has a degree, what kind of degree, and what major or minor the teacher has. It is perfectly acceptable to write to the teacher and ask these questions, as well as what courses the teacher has completed that make him or her a perfect fit for the class you are considering. Ask how the teacher came to teach that subject. If the teacher does not have the educational background to teach, then discern if there is work experience or passionate endeavors that would substitute for it. For example, a teacher might not have a degree in history, but he or she may have long been a student of some era of history and may therefore have significant expertise in it.
Area 3 – Teaching Experience
How long has the teacher been teaching online? If the teacher is relatively new to the online world, that is perfectly fine, but how much other teaching experience does the teacher have? Is the teacher familiar with homeschoolers?
Part of discerning teaching experience is to ask for a syllabus for the class. In my experience, however, this is just scratching the surface. It is actually fairly easy to create a generic syllabus; your child deserves a prepared teacher who has thought through the material and is ready and able to provide guidance, evaluation, and an organized approach. Ask the teacher how many times he or she has taught this course. Do they ever adjust the syllabus or is it fairly well set? The answers to these questions will provide insight into the teacher’s preparation and experience.
Area 4 – Teaching Style
How would the teacher characterize his style? Not all teachers work for everyone. Know your student, and know what will work. If you know you need a teacher who is forgiving about deadlines because of your own family’s schedule, then make sure your teacher is really flexible. If you need a teacher who will hold your student’s feet to the fire, then find one who doesn’t mind being strict. Does your student respond well to humor, or do they prefer a more straight, didactic presentation?
Now that I’ve mentioned deadlines, please know that teaching a class is not a private tutoring situation. Teachers in a classroom setting are managing a classroom and need all students to approach the end of the class experience having spent the time and energy to reach certain academic goals. If your schedule is too unpredictable to commit to the grading requirements and deadlines, consider auditing the class or finding a teacher who is willing to serve as a private tutor.
Area 5 – References
Ask the teacher for both parent and student references. Most experienced teachers can provide both. Also, you should seek out opinions from those you know in the virtual world. There are a number of forums in which you are able to solicit advice from others.
Area 6 – Managing Your Options
I’ve never been a fan of one mode of education. Diversify your student’s learning portfolio to include online classes, local opportunities, and home exploration. I know it is a lot to manage, but my own children were happiest in their home education journey when they had multiple modes during the year. We might have more of one type of educational setting than another (I teach online!), but one setting never had an exclusive hold.
And speaking of holding, just remember that you are in charge of your student’s homeschool transcript. Unless you have regulatory requirements of some nature, you decide the grade that goes on the transcript. So, if you need to skip a paper, if you need to forego a week of school for a great trip, then do it, and let go of it. The grades your teachers assign are grades for their class, but you are not beholden to issue that same grade on the transcript. Make it work for you.
FREE RESOURCE: Teacher Interview Template
Spring might still be stressful, but with a bit of consideration and a brave approach, spring turns into fall, and a successful year begins! Have you decided who should teach your kids?
Here are a few links you can follow to find out more about Excelsior Classes Instructors:
Jodi Guerra is an Instructor and Coordinator with Excelsior Classes, a consortium of online teachers dedicated to excellence in online instruction. She has been involved in the education of children and adults serving in public schools, private schools, and corporate America. For the last twenty years, Jodi has worked with homeschool students in private classes, tutoring situations, and in the virtual world of online education. She seeks to make every learning situation fun yet productive. Besides teaching, Jodi loves to read and finds both cooking and sewing to be creative expressions.