Monday, February 28, 2011


The group seated around the table after Sunday dinner included five teachers, so it wasn't surprising that our conversation turned eventually to education. One of the things I learned during that discussion surprised me. Definitely not an info-bit to be filed under "rocket science" - but, in this age of higher education and specialists and professional expertise, it seem a bit idiosyncratic. First, a little background...

I am a homeschool mom. Anyone in this business is familiar with the ongoing debate about the qualification of parents to teach their children. If we are not professional teachers, with college degrees and state certifications to validate us, do we really have the knowledge and training necessary to educate the next generation?

Not many folks will argue that a parent possessing at least a high school diploma lacks the intelligence to teach a pre-schooler her numbers, colors, and alphabet. However, lots of folks will insist that for higher grades - particularly junior and senior high - teachers must have college training. After all, not every Joe off the street has the mastery of trigonometry, chemistry, or world history necessary to adequately train high school students. Right?

Here is where my surprise comes in. The party at the table that day included one elementary school teacher and four high school teachers. Their college degrees? All but one had degrees in education. The Biology I and Anatomy teacher? Nope, her degree was not in Biology, nor any other kind of life science. It was in education. The technology and communication teacher? B.S. in Education.

Now, this shouldn't really come as a surprise to me at all. My high school Biology teacher was a football coach with a degree in physical education. Same for my high school history teacher. Were they experts in the subjects they taught? Absolutely not. But they were certified.

When I attended UT Knoxville a bazillion years ago, pursuing a degree in education with an emphasis in human ecology, my dean explained that upon completing my education degree, I could also receive certification to teach algebra, trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, physics, and biology. Why? Because, while pursuing a different degree, I had completed two years of college math, two of chemistry, two of physics, and one of biology. Had I mastered those subjects? No way! But the dean was confident that I knew enough about them to teach high school students.

Do I still remember the things I learned way back in Calculus 3? No. In Organic Chemistry? No. Am I qualified to teach high school students? With some excellent resources in hand and the right motivation, absolutely.

The issue doesn't seem to be "Does the teacher possess mastery of the subject?" Rather, it is "Does the teacher have the training and the ability to teach?" My brief experience in the education department at UT taught me that "education" is not very much about reading, writing, and arithmetic; it is quite often about learning styles, lesson plans, and churning out paperwork for state and federal records.

And this is where it gets a little weird for us homeschoolers. By the time a homeschool parent has a student ready to enter high school, she has 8+ years of lesson plans, grade reports, and teaching experience behind her. Whether she knows the current technical jargon or not, this mom knows Johnny's learning style and adjusts her teaching style accordingly. What about quality textbooks, laboratory equipment, math manipulatives, etc.? Text book publishers and producers of school supplies made their products and services available to the homeschool community a long, long time ago.

A state-certified high school teacher and a homeschool mom without a college degree - we found we had some things in common that Sunday. We are both experienced, capable teachers. And, yes, despite weaknesses in our own educational backgrounds, we are both adequate for teaching the subjects at hand.

But we found we had some significant differences, too. Jane spends a disproportionate part of her class time dealing with behavior and discipline problems, with no real recourse to address them adequately. Bob admits that, when faced with a student who simply will not do the work necessary for his class, it is a relief to be able to just barely "pass" them at the end of the term and get them out of his classroom for good. He genuinely cares for most of his students, but lacks the time or resources to constructively engage the particularly lazy or difficult ones.

Me - I have to live with my students. And they have to live with me. Like it or not, we simply must work out some of these behavior issues, motivation problems, and mental challenges to learning. No bell rings at 3:00 to tell us we're free from this educational journey. And unless they're headed to university next fall, they'll all be back in my class next year.

My brain is still processing a few other education-related thoughts, so there will probably be more blogs on this topic before the week is out. I'd love to hear some of your thoughts, too!


Anonymous said...

I love you Mom!

Gayle said...

Camille, you are one of my heros!!! Thank you for always putting Christ first and sharing your wisdom with others. We miss and love you! Gayle Quick