Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When Mom isn't the Teacher - DOs and DON'Ts

I remember the first time my high school son took a class outside of our homeschool. Prior to high school, I wasn't as concerned, but when courses started counting for credit, I struggled with giving another person control of his education, even for an hour or two a week. Ironic, huh, considering how many people give me that authority every year? Nevertheless, it honestly challenged me.
In the long run, that experience benefited me as much as it did my son. Lessons in communication never came more readily! Looking at this situation from two perspectives, as a teacher and a mother, maybe I can share some of what I learned.

Definitely Do
1. Choose wisely - check out my previous blog, Determining the Value of Classes Outside Your Home, for information about how to make class choices that benefit your family.
2. Attend Open Houses - don't ever miss the chance to attend an open house and meet the teacher(s) first hand. This offers an excellent first step toward open communication. Teachers remember the parents who attend open houses!
3. Be honest about your child's weaknesses - as moms, we can be blinded by our love for our children. If you know your child struggles in a particular way or has certain skill challenges, be upfront with the teacher ahead of time. A little extra knowledge can greatly increase the overall success of your child!
5. Establish the best communication style - some teachers prefer to communicate via email, while others appreciate phone calls. Discuss this early on if the teacher doesn't clarify her preference and let her know the easiest method for reaching you in a timely manner. One of my student's parents shared with me that she is challenged by lengthy emails, so I know when I want to share important information with her, I either call her or make the email very succinct. If your child's teacher shares information primarily by email and you don't check your box often, you might have to change that habit for a time.
6. Be positive from the beginning - make it clear that you expect this to be a wonderful experience for your child. I am greatly encouraged by parents who express that they are confident in my ability to help their children grow academically and spiritually.
7. Determine the appropriate communication level based on your child - many factors affect how often you should communicate with the teacher. If your child is younger, has a learning disability or has struggled in previous classes, you'll want to check on progress more often than with an older, mature high school student. With high school students, I now require that they have their own email addresses (although I am always willing to cc parents if they prefer) so that I can directly communicate with the students. I discovered quickly that emails going through multiple people don't always reach their destination!
8. Thoroughly read the teacher's emails and other written communication before asking questions - when a teacher spends time mapping out details in writing, it's frustrating to have a parent ask questions that can be answered by reading the email. It's amazing how often that happens, most often because parents feel busy and rushed. You shouldn't ever hesitate to ask questions, but make sure you don't already have the answers at your fingertips! :)
7. Save written communication from the teacher - questions often come up after the fact and keeping emails from the teacher may help provide answers. It's not uncommon for parents to ask me to resend emails multiple times throughout the year and that's fine, but it will save you time if you already have the information handy. I use Outlook for my email server and it allows me to set up file folders for email. For example, I have a folder labeled "Con Law" that contains all of the emails from my son's teacher, Bob Menges. I even set up a rule so that those emails go directly to that folder to help me stay organized. If you use Outlook but don't know how to use the folders tool, feel free to email me for assistance.
8. Advise the teacher of any issues - the sooner you let the teacher know, the easier it will be for you and your child. If your child has to miss a class or turn in work later due to a family crisis, such as an illness or death in the family, notify the teacher as soon as you can. If you notice your child developing a negative attitude or not wanting to do the work, let the teacher know.
9. Observe the teacher in action - My classroom stands wide open for any prospective or current parent to visit and watch. If you feel concerned or nervous about enrolling your child, arrange to spend some time in the classroom as an observer. 

Definitely Don't
1. Send your child to a class just because it worked for your friend's child - I think that as homeschool moms we connect so much to one another that we assume our children will do the same. As you look at teachers and classes, be sure to think of your individual child's needs. Don't make assumptions based on other students' experiences. 
2. Assume that your child is doing well because you haven't heard from the teacher - hopefully, any teacher that you utilize will let you know the moment your child begins to struggle. However, it's wisest to periodically check in with the teacher on your child's progress. Sometimes there aren't significant problems, but smaller ones that can add up. If you make an effort to check in occasionally, it allows the teacher the opportunity to focus on your child and give you a quick evaluation. 
3. Micromanage your high school student - if you have a question about your high school student's class, start by asking your child. If your student has a question or concern, have him ask the teacher without going through you. High school students need room to develop adult communication skills and connecting with teachers offers a positive way to grow this skill. I have actually referred parents back to their students when they asked me questions that I know their children can answer. As moms, we don't purposefully demean our children by micromanaging, but it's a habit developed from their younger years. A little awareness easily prevents this problem. Obviously, the exception to this is a student who seriously struggles with communication or has a learning disability. More parent/teacher communication may be required in such situations.
4. Over-enroll your children - As parents, it's easy to panic and sign our children up for every opportunity that's seems positive. I've had moms tell me that they're signing their children up for every possible class (I've had students who take 3 of my classes at the same time!) that I offer because I might not be teaching the next year. This area requires faith in God's plan for our children and He has one for each of them, so we don't have to worry about making every perfect decision. As homeschoolers, we need to remember that our children should actually spend some time at home! Stressing out over too many courses removes the joy that should accompany the flexibility and freedom of homeschooling. 
5. Don't compare children - When my son began taking Constitutional Law, he had some anxiety over being compared with his older sister, who was a very successful student in the same course. Funny enough, he has discovered his own strengths and because his teacher and his parents don't expect him to be his older sister, he enjoys the class. Children often put undue pressure on themselves by comparisons to siblings and other homeschool students; they definitely don't need their parents doing the same. I teach many siblings and I really strive to see them as individuals, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and I encourage their parents to do the same.

How blessed we are to have so many options in homeschooling! As you evaluate the best options for your family, I hope the information in this blog helps you make wise decisions. As always, feel free to email me or comment on this blog if I can be of any assistance!

In Him,


  1. Beth,
    Very well put. As you know, I have been on both sides of the fence as well and I think you covered the issue clearly on both sides.

    Thanks for your informative post!

    Epi Kardia Home Education

  2. You definitely have the experience to know...thanks for reading, Dana!