Debates about Homeschooling: Parents are not expert teachers

One frequent argument against homeschooling is the fact that in many states, parents are not required to have teaching credentials in order to teach their own children at home. Public schools often list the percentage of their staff that is “highly qualified.” Are homeschooled students missing a critical element in their education because their teachers do not hold a teaching credential?

Teachers are not experts, either

Do you know how every teacher in your child’s school got to that position? The only thing you can be relatively certain about is that they graduated from college. Unless you ask each individual teacher, you don’t know whether they majored in education or anthropology. Teachers are not required to have majored in the subject they teach, nor do they necessarily have to have taken any coursework in education. I taught middle and high school math for 10 years in public and private schools without a degree in math. I did not have a degree in education until my 7th year of teaching.

Public schools often require teachers to get certified within a certain number of years; however, there are alternative paths to do that for people who have had other career plans before deciding to teach. During my first two years of teaching, 5 of the 10 teachers in my department were not certified. Some were, like me, recent college grads who couldn’t find a job in their field (mine was engineering). The other uncertified teachers were older, with years of experience in another career. My local school district was so desperate to fill math and science teaching positions that they would take anyone with a college degree in a STEM field and let them teach as long as they progressed toward getting a teaching certification. 

If you think that paying big bucks for private school guarantees expert teachers, think again. Private schools often pay their teachers less than public schools do, so they have a harder time attracting quality candidates. (The promise of less disciplinary problems from the students does not put food on the teachers’ tables.) In private schools, it is also more likely that teachers end up having to teach the odd class outside of their usual subject area. Those teachers pick up the teacher’s edition of the textbook and figure out what to do, just as a homeschooling parent does. 

Teaching skills that parents do not need

  • Classroom design – Homeschoolers do not need a classroom in their house and walls do not need to be turned into bulletin boards. Teachers spend a lot of time and money to make their classrooms cheery and cozy, giving it a more at-home feel. Hopefully, a child’s home already feels cozy, so why try to make it more institutional to mimic a classroom? The kitchen table, couch, and floor are all perfectly acceptable places to do school work.
  • Classroom management – While a homeschooling parent might have to wrangle a toddler while trying to teach older kids, that is not a skill taught to teachers. Teachers learn how to control a crowd of 20+ students all born within roughly the same 12 months. Homeschoolers do not need a seating chart or bell schedule. The parent does not need to transform into the teacher on every school day, homeschooling is just an extension of parenting.
  • Teaching methods – Well-written homeschool curriculum provides different approaches and activities to choose from when teaching. So, the parent just needs to read the materials and decide what their child would find most interesting. That, by the way, is the same thing school teachers get from the teacher’s edition of their textbook and workshops they attend. 
  • Tests and grading – Homeschooling is more like 1:1 tutoring than classroom teaching. The parent can see the student’s work as they are doing it, and therefore, knows whether the kid understands or not without giving a chapter test. Until at least high school level classes, there is no need to give tests or grades. Even in high school, grades are only to report on a transcript.

Homeschoolers do not just learn from their parents

Homeschooling does not mean that all of the kid’s education takes place at their kitchen table with Mom as the teacher, and occasionally Dad as the substitute. Even before the pandemic made all kids school virtually for a bit, homeschoolers used online classes and audio or video courses taught by school teachers or university professors. But in non-pandemic times, homeschoolers also interact with live humans outside of their house!

Many homeschoolers join together in co-ops or tutorials to take classes. These are usually taught by a parent who has a particular interest they want to share with the kids, or the group brings in an outside expert to teach a course. Homeschooling groups also often take field trips. What leaves a more lasting impression, going to a living history museum to learn about the work enslaved people did on plantations by seeing and touching the tools actually used at that time or sitting in a classroom listening to a PowerPoint lecture about slavery in the U.S.?

Museums, libraries, gyms, and colleges might offer classes specifically to homeschoolers during the day on weekdays. However, homeschoolers are not restricted to activities targeted to them during normal school hours. Workshops and events happening on evenings and weekends can also provide educational opportunities. Many teenage homeschoolers start taking classes at a college while still in high school. These classes are taught by college professors and count for high school credit and could ease the course load when the kid continues their education.

Parents can learn along with students

Schools often take the “sage on a stage” approach to education, with the teacher lecturing their knowledge upon the students and the students, later, having to regurgitate that information on an assessment. Homeschooling is an education for everyone involved. Even though I have two college degrees, I am learning a ton of stuff as I am teaching my kids. There is so much history I never appreciated before. I have gained an understanding of the phonetic structure of English that I never knew existed. I am even discovering new insights in my area of teaching expertise! My older child’s math curriculum is structured very differently than the textbooks I taught out of in schools. So, I am learning new approaches I never thought of before. At the same time, I have come to appreciate how math skills are grown from the foundations of counting and shapes as I have taught my younger child from infancy through now 2nd grade. Homeschooling is making me a better teacher!

Leave me a comment if you have suggestions for future “Debates about Homeschooling” content you would like to see.

Some other debates I am researching are:

  • Kids need the social structure of school (I have addressed the question before in What about socialization?)
  • Only religious fundamentalists homeschool
  • Homeschooling is Abuse
  • Your idea here