Confessions of an “unschooling teacher/dad”

3 Apr

I’ve been a public school teacher for 18 years and believe that a good public school system is essential to a fair and equitable society. In spite of this, for five years, I withdrew my three children from the school system and they were educated at home, and that didn’t seem contradictory to me.

My sons were in grade one, three and five when we started home schooling them. There were a variety of complex reasons why. We were fortunate because we could afford to and were willing to home school them and both parents were experienced, qualified teachers.

We went through the usual trial and error process that many ‘home schoolers” describe. We began with a structured, ‘schooley’ approach and ended up, after much discussion, exploration and research, “unschooling” the boys, where they were left free to follow their interests, whatever they were and however they chose.

Four years ago the boys began expressing a desire to return to school. The reasons were unclear to them, and to me, but I think as they got older they needed to connect more with their peers, and schools are where the peers are (one of them mentioned something about meeting girls). Schools are a common experience and so much of popular teen/tween culture is centred on school.

Three years ago, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts, the boys re-launched themselves into the school system. They attended an alternative program that was a safe place for them to land. A program where teachers taught interdisciplinary units in a way closer to their learning style.

There were definite growing pains, but after a while they established themselves and started to make gains. Currently two of the three take ‘regular’ HS classes (the third will next year) and all are going from strength to strength. They are recognized as successful students, with some teachers wondering if they might be ‘gifted’. In some ways it feels like they’ve arrived.

While my children were learning at home, teaching colleagues expressed surprise that I could work as a teacher while my children were home schooled. They saw it as contradictory. At the same time home schoolers couldn’t understand how I could work in the public school system while my children were at home. I disagreed with both points of view and still do.

School isn’t the answer for all students and neither is home schooling. Some students are best served outside of school and some within, and this varies on a case by case basis. Students change and grow and develop at different times and rates and different situations are effective at different times.

None of this is an indictment of schools or of educating at home. No answer is right all the time in all situations. My sons are proof of that.

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