- Is your child ready for a classroom setting? Depending on how you operate your homeschool, a child may or may not be ready to participate in a classroom environment. Children who are unschooled or who have a loosely structured homeschool situation may find even an hour or so in a classroom to be stifling. Other children who follow a very specific routine may struggle when a teacher does things differently than mom. Some children need a period of adjustment when they begin taking classes outside of the home.
- Are you ready to let someone else teach your child? Some of us have difficulty with this idea. The most common concern I get from parents is that they're worried they haven't been good teachers and if they put their kids in my class, I'll know it. The only situation I have ever encountered concerning this issue is one family, in over a decade of teaching homeschoolers, who wasn't doing any school at home. Typically, parents are doing a much better job than they think. If your concern is that you lack confidence in the teacher, then most definitely don't let your child take the class. You will find yourself being extra critical if you start out with a lack of confidence in the instructor.
- Will your child respond to the instructor's teaching style? One of the best ways to learn about an instructor's teaching style is to talk to parents and students who have taken his/her courses. For example, I can tend to rabbit trail when I get really excited about a literary work or writer. Most of my students find this mildly entertaining and I think they appreciate my enthusiasm. However, a student who has difficulty refocusing after a break may find my style distracting. I haven't had issues in this area, but it's definitely possible. Another example might be a teacher who uses pop quizzes. I am not a fan of pop quizzes in most cases. I am a fan of mastery and I view such methods as trickery to some extent. Many teachers would disagree with me and both of my children have had teachers who quiz with that method. It hasn't been enough to warrant them not taking the course, but if a child is already feeling at a disadvantage, such a method could be very negative. My child had a teacher who spent an entire class period without speaking to him directly (I actually observed this in a classroom myself). It didn't bother my child, but it greatly bothered me as a parent and a teacher. I never used that teacher again. My children have had teachers who loved them dearly, but taught them little. You are the parent...it's your job to observe and determine what works best for your child. Every teacher can't adapt their teaching style for every student, but being aware of teaching styles that may have detrimental effects on your child is important and understanding personalities and styles that encourage and move your child forward is essential. There's nothing wrong with asking a teacher about his/her style.
- Does the teacher demonstrate beliefs that support your moral goals for your children? Even among Christians, there are variances concerning doctrinal beliefs and moral standing. I try to live Christ out in my life, and that includes in my classroom. I have taught children who come from unbelieving families, but I make it clear from the beginning that I will be a witness for Christ through my teaching. I am not perfect, nor profess to be, but backing down in my faith in my classroom just isn't an option. I work hard to avoid doctrinal issues, unrelated to actual salvation, because I don't want to contradict any parent's teachings. If a student did express something that was clearly not Biblical and claimed it was, I would go to the parent first. We have to love one another in Christ and be sensitive in these areas. I am not unique among teachers. It is impossible to teach young people and not reveal what you believe, whether you're a follower of Christ or not. It is much easier on a child if the moral compass of the teacher is similar to that being taught at home. A high school student might be able to differentiate and will definitely have to do so in college, but younger children will find it more challenging to do so.
- Can you afford the money and time required to commit to the course? I think for me, money is less of a concern than time. Every year, I have at least one student who needs scholarship due to a lost job or other serious family issue. It's a part of life and I avoid losing students due to financial hardship as much as possible. However, it is important to make sure your budget can support a class for the time period required. Time is an even greater issue for many homeschool families. Some don't think about the travel time or what's required in homework. I've had moms complain that they spend so much time on their kids' outside courses (because they don't want to send their children to class unprepared) that they don't have time to teach them at home. It's better to examine these issues honestly ahead of time to avoid frustration later.
- Are you being realistic about your child's ability to be successful in the course? I often hear from parents of 6th-8th graders who want their children in my high school courses. Both of my children started high school courses, under my teaching, in 8th grade. It's not uncommon in homeschooling circles. However, that doesn't mean it's best for every child. I usually ask students who don't meet the typical criteria to give me a work sample before I let them register. As parents, we may want to move our child forward, even when they're not ready. Talk to your child and the teacher if you have a situation that is questionable concerning your child's ability to succeed in a class.
- Does the teacher work with children who have disabilities? I've had a wide variety of students with learning disabilities and emotional issues. In most cases. we do very well together as long as I know ahead of time that the problem exists. It's so important that you communicate any possible challenges beforehand. I have experience working students suffering from ADD/ADHD, processing and comprehension problems, traumatizing life situations and abuse. All of these children struggle more in my classes than the average child, but that doesn't stop them or me from working through it. I've had moms in tears call me to pull their children and before we're through, those kids are successfully completing the course! It's not easy on the parent, child or teacher, but it's a reality of our world that children do not come in easy to teach packages. Most teachers know their limits, so if you have a child with a disability or concern, it's much better, for everyone's sake, to discuss ahead of time.
- Is the class valuable to your child's education? This probably seems like a rather obvious question, but as homeschoolers we have to weigh the value of a class that takes time from our actual "home." There are any number of reasons that parents put their children in outside classes. One the main reasons is that the parent doesn't feel capable of or enjoy teaching the skill or course. Another reason might be that you want your child to spend some time in a more structured classroom environment being accountable to someone other than you. Both of these are valid. Nevertheless, you don't want to sacrifice too much for your child to take a class. Overall, there needs to be balance in the value and the time, energy and money expended.
- Does the teacher communicate in a way that works for you? If you are considering an online course with the teacher only communicating by email or online, that might be a challenge when there's one computer for a family of five! Remember that unmet expectations lead to frustration, so it's best not to make assumptions that because a person is a teacher, he or she is a great communicator. Some teachers aren't willing to spend a lot of time on the phone working through questions and concerns, while others are very accommodating. Some teachers prefer to communicate in writing while others are only reachable by phone and at certain hours. What are the teacher's standard procedures for a child who is struggling...when will you, as the parent, hear about it? What if your child has to miss several classes...will the teacher be willing to help your child catch up or are you solely responsible? Will the teacher invoice you monthly or do you have to pay upfront? All of these questions, and more, relate to how the instructor communicates with parents. Is the teacher relatively organized, sending out regular communications or does he/she struggle with getting back to parents in a timely manner? Some teachers send communications through students while others are more direct with parents. Asking questions about communication style is wise before choosing the person your child will be learning from over the next school year.
Many factors influence how valuable outside classes can be for your family. From time spent on the road to the number of children you are homeschooling to educational concerns, selecting a teacher and/or courses should not be done so lightly. Your child's success and growth need to be the greatest concern and if the teacher can offer assistance in that area, then you're on your way!
If you are uncertain about any of the above issues or something not mentioned, please do not hesitate to comment on this blog or email me directly.