Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Great teachers are amazing

The most inspiring teacher I had in my life retired recently.

Over 1000 people joined a Facebook group to write thanks and reminisce about their time in 6th form, or history lessons, or politics classes.

He was not just an incredibly intelligent, talented teacher, but an incomparable force of nature. He ruled the 6th form on his own terms and inspired respect in everyone.

But the magic was this: he made you feel like he personally respected, cared and rooted for you. When he spoke to you there was no sense that anything was more important than you; in that moment, or ever.

He helped me apply to Oxford and commiserated when I didn't receive an offer. Through his magic, he still managed to make me feel like a success.

I struggled immensely with going to school and had trouble engaging with my A Levels. I remember a friend telling me that I'd stopped writing half way through one exam and sat there staring into space.

When the school team couldn't get Sheffield to accept my poor grades, I returned for another shot at those exams.

Before my third year in 6th form, I was concerned about being able to manage turning up every day. (I kid you not).

This maverick legend of a teacher told me that I could just attend for the classes I was taking.  What kind of teacher today could even contemplate offering that to a student?

(full disclosure, to this day I have panicky nightmares about going to English lessons because I'm so behind in attendance).

I stumbled my way through the year, picked up another AS level, still attended sporadically and tried to drop English. My ex English teacher of the previous 4 years stormed out of the office in a strop with me over that. (I mention this only as a poignant comparison to the man who built me up and made me feel worthy of making decisions for myself; instead of making me feel more shit about my choices.)

Looking back, I can safely say that almost my entire time at school felt like shit. I lived with a gnawing hollow pit in my stomach and alternated between deep sadness and complete indifference, needing to hide away from everything that was there. I loved to learn. I enjoyed knowing stuff. But I passively resisted the system for 7 years.

However, such is the impact of this man, I can look back fondly too. I remember the riveting history lessons, the unerring belief in me and the pride with which he told me I'd passed his exam module with 100%.

Without him I think times would have been harder and I thank him for what he gave me, even when I wasn't really all that likable.

Happy retirement, Sir.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Contemplating handwriting

I made a collage for my Facebook page

In one year Diana has gone from being unable and unwilling to write on lined paper, to copying out almost two full pages of A4 in neat, joined handwriting.

My thoughts:

I don't believe that children require rigorous training in handwriting throughout the early years of schooling.

I do believe that schools need children who are able to produce legible handwriting as soon as possible. Competent writers make setting work easier. They also make proof-of-learning and assessments easier.

This is important to consider as a home educator, especially if one is in it for the long haul (i.e. not considering re/integration into a school environment.)

Schoolteachers, bless their overworked, kind, lovely souls, cannot possibly track and present the development of 30 kids over 11 months without a system. They need the marks, results, evidence.

And even if they did have some intricate mind palace arrangement; with each kid's achievements and improvements in their own little mental slot (I'd put nothing past the excellent school teachers I know) do you think the school superiors or OFSTED would accept THAT?

Schools have two things that matter here: a burden of proof, and strict time constraints. From what I gather, each Key Stage must be compared against an earlier one to show progression. There's little room for individuals to delve deeply into one area at a time; or to make leaps completely unexpectedly in other areas.

Home educators have the luxury of time.

In the Onions house there hasn't been a need for extended written work in our lives. Each step Diana's taken towards being able to achieve such has been on terms that suit her aptitude.

With (a little) pressure, but, most importantly;
without shame.

So if you're on this path, if you're worried about "keeping up", if your naysayers are putting you down, take heart.

Just look at what can be achieved in a year.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Self regulation and the home educated child

I'm going to preface this:

if you're secure in your life choices, the education of your children, or anything else I might trigger in you, then rock on! I'm genuinely happy for you, I would love to have what you have. Wobbly times of wondering if I'm fucking this all up could then be a thing of the past and I wouldn't have to feel in competition with everyone and every buggering thing they do.

So this post is one quiet, wobbly voice in what feels like a crowd of people celebrating autonomous education.

And I understand why it (autonomous education or unschooling) needs to be celebrated: mainstream don't like it, so there needs to be constant advocacy against the tide of negativity.

But, once in a while, I myself someone in a wobble might need to read something like this. So, here we go...

Fair enough. I won't call it self regulating. I admit to having expectations concerning ability and potential and I admit to feelings of unease when my child's self-chosen activities appear repetitive and restrictive. This may or may not be a schooled hangover. It is definitely based on my experience of 7 years plugging away through various approaches as a home educator of one child.

So, accepting the above, there must in turn be a recognition that some children need help with appropriate decision making in at least two situations:

  • When their choices have a negative impact on themselves; and
  • When their choices have a negative impact on others.

Here I will adress the issue of when their choices have a negative impact on themselves, because I personally feel uncomfortable with a philosophy that appears to suggest we stand by as our children make choices that make them unhappy, unmotivated and unwell.

I'm talking about situations where, when left to regulate their own time, they choose a path of least resistance that causes them negative emotional, social and interpersonal experiences. Where those experiences don't teach natural consequences, but instead the child repeats the same behaviours time and again, compounding the negative impact.

When, in comparison, a parent led structure, involving (for example) to do lists and direction, allows them to break past their own negative or destructive habits. When having a goal or incentive motivates a child to break past the anxiety of starting something so that they can discover new passions and abilities.

You see, some children really don't know how to regulate. They need to learn executive functions, because those skills don't come naturally. And these children don't always have a diagnosis (and might, or might not, be given one, if tested). And they don't always organically learn what they need, when they need it (or know how to ask for it.)

Applying a one-size-fits-all philosophy is exactly the antithesis of home education. Making a choice to home educate is a decision to move away from square pegs and round holes, and if something is destructive, or limiting for a child then it is wrong for that child. Trying to force it to be any other way is as ludicrous as throwing them unprepared into the authoritarian system we've rejected.