As many of you will know already, I was a school teacher. I am still a teacher, my Degree says I’ll always be one, but these days I prefer to think of my self as a “World Education Facilitator’, but that’s a bit of a mouthful though right? Until Simon and I decided to live differently and travel with our children, I’m not sure if I would have dived into being my own children’s teacher, but we were certainly looking for a change.
As young parents, when we moved to this suburb I did a bit of Relief Teaching, (you may call it supply or substitute teaching) when our oldest was just a baby. I enjoyed keeping my little toe in the workforce and the extra pocket money, but I also had an ulterior motive. I was spying. We were considering schools to send our daughter to in the future, and by teaching a few days in each school in our area I was able to review each of our options. Back then, before Lucy even had her first birthday, we put her name down at the school I considered to be the best. The criteria for choosing a school was this… (and I’ll be brutally honest)…
- Student Behaviour – yup it was right up the top. As a teacher it was my job to individually manage student behaviour and minimise the distractions of poor behaviour on class learning time. As a parent, my goal was to find the school with the least poorly behaved students, so that MY child would be less impacted by other children’s bad behaviour. Sad but true.
- Student’s overall well being – did the kids seem happy? How much bullying did I witness, and how much time was spent dealing with bickering?
- Teacher’s friendliness and overall happiness to be at the school – Yes staffrooms reveal a lot about a school. As a relief teacher who only popped in and out for a few days it was interesting to note the schools where I was made to feel welcome, the staff that went out of their way to be helpful. More than that though, I also witnessed many staffrooms full of grumpy teachers who did not enjoy working at the school that they were at, and I doubted their ability to bring positive energy to their classes.
- The schools’s management team – Did I get on well with the principal and deputy? Did I even meet them, or see them mixing with the students, and what kind of relationship did I witness them have with the staff and parents?
- Did the parents seem happy at drop off and pick-up times? – Schools with cranky, bitching parents at the end of the day scored low, after all they were my gauge to how I might feel about the school one day.
- Extra-curricular and sports / music programs – What else did the school have to offer?
- Academic achievement (in the classrooms I saw) – Which schools had students achieving higher than others? Yes this is at the bottom. Academic achievement is rarely as good as it can be if the students and teaching staff are unhappy and unmotivated.
We chose a school for our baby daughter that possessed the best of these qualities, and then later on enrolled our son as well. So why, 10 years later, have we chosen to take them out of school to travel, and to educate them ourselves around the world? First of all, this is not going to be a school name and shame exercise. The school that we sent our children to is a very good one, and we believe that the teaching staff there are doing the best that they can with the guidelines that they need to teach within. But that’s where our bone of contention lies, not with the school and the teachers as much as with the education system that they are guided by.
One of my frustrations with classroom teaching was that I couldn’t always teach what the children were interested in and passionate about. A very rigid curriculum meant that it was my job to try and inspire interest in topics that the students couldn’t have cared less about, with hours spent in preparation time trying to make the lessons interesting. This is very different to letting the children’s interests guide the lessons, whereby my preparation time could be spent researching further opportunities to dig deeper into the topics they are already interested in. Also, as a Junior Primary Teacher, I have firmly believed that there is too much in the curriculum for little people. Trying to squeeze in all the lessons required by the guidelines, means that even Junior Primary Teachers are forced to run their classrooms like high schools in 50 minute blocks just to get through it all. The constant stop and start, with packing up and re-establishing the focus means that the children lose their momentum, and are rarely able to explore all that they desire from a learning opportunity.
I was also frustrated that I couldn’t always spend the time teaching the children what they needed to learn. So full was the curriculum, and the requirements to complete ‘this years’ workload that movement through the topics (particularly in maths) was swift and there wasn’t the time to stop and catch up or recover the students that were struggling to keep up. And so year after year, teachers do the best that they can to work through their allocated ‘learning outcomes’ and then pass the students on to the next teacher to do the same. By moving through education in such a linear model, children’s creativity, inquiry and interests are stifled. Students who are a little bit behind risk falling further and further behind in the race to get them through their school years.
And of course, I’ve left the big one until last. Testing. Show me a teacher who believes in their heart that the one test fits all model is the right one for our kids, and I’ll eat my broad rimmed play-ground duty hat, and choke on my whistle. Standardized national testing truly has become the devil in our schools. The government that introduced the NAPLAN testing in our classrooms spun a load of rubbish about their goal being to raise standards, but the truth is, evidence 5 years on, (and longer in other countries) shows that the tests had no positive impact at all. Educators know that standardised testing of children at fixed ages, runs counter to what is known about child development. Parents and teachers will tell you that children develop differently. Our kids reach different milestones at different times. But schools have a lot riding on these published results, and the pressure is on teachers for good results despite what may be in the best interests for students.
Given my years of classroom frustration and and our desire as parents to carve out a different path for this life we are living with our children, I guess it should come as no surprise that we decided to give ‘Homeschooling’ (or as I prefer to say, Worldschooling since we will leave ‘home’ soon) a try. After all, what’s the worse that could happen? If a year from now we realise that our kids haven’t learnt a bloody thing, and they are worse off for the experience, well, back to school it is. But that’s a risk that we are willing to take, because a year is a drop in the ocean really, and who knows they may just come out much better off at the other end of it. 😉
If you want to find out how this learning at home (or in the world) thing works, stick around. I promise I’ll let you all know in an upcoming post how we’re managing it. In the meantime, check out Our Global Unschool Adventure for a sneak peak into our early progress.
What are your thoughts? Would you consider helping your kids learn outside of a classroom? Are you doing it already? We’d love to hear your tips!