One of the criticisms leveled at home schoolers and some Christian schools is that the people doing the job of teaching are not really experts, not really trained professionals. The logic then follows that because they do not meet this qualification, they must be bad teachers, and furthermore, their students will suffer. What is the response to such a criticism?
In reality there are multiple problems with the above statement. In the first place, a trained professional may be a lousy teacher. Most of my education classes in college were a blatant waste of time. In fact there is a saying that goes as follows: those who can, do; those who can't, teach, and those who can't teach, teach teachers. Now that's strong medicine, but there is some truth to it. Being trained may be nothing more than having put in some time at the proper diploma dispensing agency. There is no guarantee that learning took place, just that the person was there for the required amount of time and performed the requisite activities with some level of success according to the school or institution.
I submit two reasons why being professionally trained is no guarantee of being a good teacher. In the first place, I am sure that all of you can remember someone who may have known a great deal about a subject, but they could not transmit that knowledge easily to another person. One of my college math professors was reputed to be the smartest man to come out of the Cal Berkley math department in 20 years. He was brilliant, but he could not impart the material to me or to many of the others in the class. He did ten steps of a calculus problem in his head for every one he put on the board, and he lost most of the class. Bright? Unquestionably so. A teacher? Not on your life.
The second reason is perhaps of more concern. Much of what is being taught in the college education classes today is New Age philosophy, Deweyism, and Piaget oriented bunk. Educational theory is constantly shifting; it is always avant garde and on the cutting edge so to speak. Much of it today flies in the face of common sense and is certainly anti-Christian. If the person being trained is a good student and embraces all the new educational ideas and practices, would you want your child being molded by them? I wouldn't!
What does make a good teacher, an expert if you will? Although no two people are alike, I believe certain characteristics which good teachers share can be identified. Let's look at a few. Good teachers generally display some enthusiasm for the material they are trying to impart. A genuine interest in the subject matter is vastly more important than a large knowledge base in the subject. How many of you moms have developed a real love for history now that you are teaching it when it was a real bore to you when you were on the other side of the desk? Enthusiasm helps; it has a way of infecting those around you, particularly your students. Teachers who simply go through the motions don't exude this spirit, and their students can readily see it.
While enthusiasm is a great quality, it is difficult to sustain in all subjects at all times. The key is to develop a general attitude that what is being done is interesting, informative, and valuable.
A second quality good teachers exhibit is the ability to cut through the fluff to the core ideas, to get the real points across. In some cases this is natural to the person, but it can be learned to some degree also. The key is to stay on track, to ask yourself if the work or material complements and builds up the understanding. Stated negatively, it becomes, "is the information or exercise just time serving, a space filler?" If so, it may be a waste of time.
A third quality of good teachers is that they know their students. As a classroom teacher with as many as 150 different students in a given day, it was very difficult for me to know much about many of my students other than their names and what period they were in. Home schoolers have a tremendous advantage in this respect. So did the teachers in those old one room school houses. Moms know when their child is genuinely sick, is out of sorts, or is just complaining in hopes of avoiding having to do the work at hand. You know what has gone on in the child's life. I remember so well the day my son saw his dog hit and killed by a car. The event disturbed him greatly, and the next day he got into trouble at the Christian school he was attending at the time. My son could not explain his angry and defensive attitude, and his teacher didn't know that my son's best friend had died either. The point: knowing about people helps to teach them. Home schoolers know their students.
I also believe that good teachers are patient and flexible. This means they can adjust to some degree to the needs of the student. Some kids just need that third or fourth time through the procedure to get it. Others are on their way with one set of instructions. A good teacher will sense this and operate accordingly; a fixed, inflexible time schedule and agenda is a killer for everyone. Careful planning takes into account the possibility of alternate routes and detours. The goal is to get the child to learn, not to get through all the material in a specified time frame.
Finally, I believe that a good teacher will know enough about the material to be comfortable with it. It is not necessary to know it all. Facts and figures can always be looked up. The basic principles and procedures, however, should be well in hand. It is truly difficult to explain something that you don't understand yourself.
So, let's wrap it up. Good teachers are not necessarily trained professionals or degreed experts with alphabet soup behind their names. Conversely, those who are trained and have all the papers are not automatically the best teachers or even good ones.
Common sense is a highly needed but often overlooked quality in respect to teaching. Society currently places too much emphasis on the necessity of having the experts and professionals do everything for you. In fact, it is these so-called experts who are protecting their jobs and positions by claiming they are the only ones truly qualified to do the job correctly all the while knowing that most people with a modicum of common sense and earnest desire could do an adequate job. Moral: hang in there, moms; you have some great advantages as teachers.
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