I'm always somehow surprised when I meet working teachers who are advocates of h/schooling. Although I know a number of teachers who have chosen to school their children at home, the majority of teachers (working within the system) I've spoken with about h/schooling do not support the idea and this difference in perspective leads to some of my more interesting, and challenging, conversations about h/schooling.
But last week I met two teachers (on the same day!) who are supportive, even enthusiastic, about h/schooling. One woman was a down-the-block neighbour I've never seen before who approached me at the mall while I was running errands; she said that she recognized Seth and Lizzie from playing in the front yard with our caucasian son. She said that she has wondered for a while if we were h/schoolers because the kids seem to be outside regularly during traditional school hours.
When I confirmed that we were, in fact, schooling at home, she sighed. To be honest, I cringed just a little, because I thought that her sigh meant that I was about to hear her thoughts about why my kids should be in public school. But she surprised me by saying that h/schooling is what she wished she'd done with her kids and that she took her hat off to me for schooling outside of the system. Wow. Turns out, she just retired from teaching and counselling in a nearby school, where she'd worked for over thirty years. When I asked her what would lead her to advocate for h/schooling given her choice of profession, she said that the system has changed so much in the past 20+ years and that she found this discouraging. She said there's so much more to life than curriculum and that there's always time later in childhood/adolescence to learn those things that, for some reason, we tend to think are so important for children to learn when they're in the primary school years. Kids are so different from each other, she said, and learn at different paces, and yet they all go through the same system. I told her about my occasional anxiety about Seth being fairly far 'behind' when it comes to curriculum, and she waved her hand at me and made a noise as if I'd voiced a ridiculous concern; she said that she thought we were doing the right thing by giving him time before pressuring him with too much academics. Interesting thoughts from a veteran teacher/counsellor.
Then, just a few hours later, when picking up Matthew from tennis camp, one of his coaches (who teaches during the school year and coaches tennis in the summer months) said to me that she and her soon-to-be-husband want to h/school their children. Currently childless, she said that they are researching h/schooling in the hopes of starting a family soon. She plied me with questions and seemed genuinely interested in the answers. She, too, referenced feeling rather "stuck" teaching the same rigid curriculum regardless of a child's ability to learn, and she said that it seemed as if a lot of time was wasted in meaningless tasks and routines. I commented to her that one of the benefits of having Matthew attend tennis camp was the exposure he got to different kinds of kids, as well as the experience of doing something routine every day. She laughed and said that this probably was good for him, because he was the kid who kept forgetting to check that everything he needed was in his backpack (he forgot his towel at camp one day, his running shoes another day, etc etc). We both had a good chuckle about that boy of mine!
It's hard to know how to respond when I talk with people working in the realm of Education. Obviously we're h/schoolers and obviously (because it's not a mainstream activity) there are strong reasons that led us to school at home rather than in the system, and so obviously I'm an advocate of educating at home (yes, I know I used the word 'obviously' three times in the last sentence). But I simultaneously have no desire to besmirch the public system or the profession that teachers have chosen to pursue, and I have no desire or need to make anyone (teachers, parents, kids) feel badly about their choice to do life differently than we do it. Added to these factors the experience I've had that most teachers I've met are not supportive of schooling at home, and the sum total of it for me is that I find it difficult to have conversations about schooling with teachers who work in the system. It's a fine line to walk. It's tough to come across (to anyone, for that matter, but particularly to teachers) as someone who's really enthused about h/schooling without also coming across as someone who's critical of another family's different choices. And when it comes to talking with working teachers, I'm conscious of not being licensed as a teacher; I'm university educated and informed, true, but not trained, specifically, to be a teacher. I'm reluctant to have someone think I'm being presumptuous - that I can do the same job they can without the degree...it's kinda like hanging out a shingle to be a therapist without the training and supervision and licensing.
I usually end up mumbling answers when asked questions about h/schooling by working teachers, and so these two conversations were remarkable for me. Confidence building.
Next up: I need to find some teachers who might be supportive of a move towards unschooling!