We’ve had so much fun traveling and seeing new sights that I’ve rarely mentioned what’s been going on in our “regular” lives so far living in Rio and Buenos Aires. One of the biggest challenges we’ve undertaken this year (in addition to traveling abroad with three young-ish children!) has been homeschooling. Let me start by saying (reiterating, really) that I have always been in awe (literally!) of the many teachers, coaches, camp counselors, and others that regularly provide care and education for our children. Teachers especially are people I regularly look at and wonder to myself “how do they do that?” “How do they maintain the attention of 20+ students throughout an entire school day and also actually teach them things (without going nuts)?”
We have been so fortunate-we’ve enjoyed all of the schools we have attended so far- and we have had SO many amazing teachers and other role models support our children (and us) in their development and growth as students, and as people. All of our kids regularly refer to teachers they’ve had, and classroom experiences they remember, on a regular basis. Recently, Colin even told me which of his teachers always smell really good (in contrast to me teaching one morning in my sweaty gym clothes…) And the other day, in case my ego might go unchecked, Sean said “it’s not like you’re a real teacher-our real teachers are much better.”
When we decided to go on this trip, Jim and I made a huge spreadsheet (excel, of course) with a checklist of all the things we’d need to do to prepare to travel in South America for 10 months. A key sign that we were both somewhat daunted by the task of homeschooling was that it was one of the very last things we tackled (or tried to tackle) from the list. (And for the record, only a very small number of items never got checked off at all…)
When we finally did get down to focusing on our homeschooling plans, one of the key things we did was talk to parents of other families who have undertaken similar trips with their families. Without fail, when we would mention to a friend or friend of a friend that we planned to homeschool in South America, they would either have their own homeschool experience, or connect us to a family that did. After a handful of these conversations, I think we both felt somewhat more confident that at the very least, our kids wouldn’t suffer for having been in our hands for their schooling for the amount of time we’re traveling. While I wouldn’t say anyone is truly suffering, our increased confidence might have been premature 😉
Let me be very clear and state that in no way was there ever a moment when I thought I could wake up one morning and suddenly know how to be a good 4th grade, 2nd grade, and pre-K teacher (especially with all the students in the same classroom!) While I received a lot of encouragement and support from people who had/have confidence in me as a teacher, I must say that I’m pretty sure some of them were just being nice 😉
Teaching is hard! (Obviously, say all my family members and friends who are teachers and who work with children…) And this is coming from someone who has access to 100% of the California State curriculum available to me in step by step lessons online (check it out: Online Core Curriculum). I still haven’t decided if the comprehensiveness of the online tools is a blessing or a curse…(blessing, because it’s all right there…curse, because, if it’s all right there, what excuses can there be?)
So there’s the curriculum: how much time does/should a teacher spend on preparation, learning the material, practicing instruction, pacing lessons appropriately, thinking of alternative strategies for students who don’t “get it” right away…there is so much to do, and obviously the good teachers we’ve known have done all of these things and more. And not to make excuses or anything, but have I mentioned that I’m not a teacher? (Jim, as many people know, does have teaching experience, and he’s done a lot of the homeschooling as well, but he also has a company to run of course…)
And after all of the time on the actual content and curriculum, there are the much more complex factors: stuff like the moods, aptitude, willingness to learn that kids bring to school each day, not to mention distractions from other students (eg brothers, sister). I might just be making excuses for myself, but I do happen to think that I get some pretty “special” behavior reserved for me as mom/teacher that maybe our kids’ teachers wouldn’t necessarily see at school. (I can only hope that this is true!)
Of course teaching is also amazingly rewarding…as teachers (and parents) know, it’s a great feeling to share, show, explain something to a (your) child and have them learn it, or to see that “lightbulb” moment. Sometimes, you might not see evidence of the learning for weeks or months, but its always rewarding, regardless of the wait. It’s also a great way to get immediate feedback -good, bad, and ugly. As ‘they’ say, feedback is a gift. You want honest feedback? Try to teach a 9-year old who stayed up too late about place value charts up to a million using dots, sticks, and pies.
For the record, I can honestly say that all of the kids have learned a lot since our trip started 9 weeks ago, and that some of what they have learned is the actual curriculum that they would be (are supposed to be) learning if we were home in Berkeley. I can also honestly say that they’ve all learned many things that they probably would not have ever been exposed to if we were home in Berkeley. So on the net learning front, we can say things are positive.
Another very positive note on the homeschooling front is that I’ve learned a few things myself: 1) some days will be better than others (for the kids, and for me); 2) like everything else I might undertake, practice and patience are the names of the game and 3) deep breaths, snacks, and recess go a long way (for all parties involved).
Homeschool(ing) has been an adventure unto itself so far. We’ve gotten some kinks worked out of the system, though others are sure to arise, and we’re forging ahead each of us learning and getting better at it each day.
Cheers to all the teachers and educators out there! More than ever, not a day goes by that I don’t miss you dearly, and appreciate you more than ever.