Be Your Child’s Best Teacher

 By Carolyn Forte


I wasn’t homeschooled.  I went to school like most of you and had a variety of teachers, mostly OK, some not so great and some downright terrible.  Two, however, were major influences in my life.  The first was my eighth grade teacher at a small Lutheran School.  I had come from the local public school and was woefully behind in math and English.  I went from being a top student to far below that status and I was struggling.

One day, Mr. Scheele noticed my discouragement.  He told me a story about another student like me and predicted that if I worked hard in his class, even if I didn’t get all A’s and B’s, I would sail through my public high school with top grades.  He was right.  I went on to a very demanding high school where (without my knowledge) I was placed in the top track of college prep classes.  I worked hard but never struggled with English or math again.  Mr. Scheele gave me the best gift a teacher can give a student:  he showed me that he believed in my abilities and made me understand that he was going to be my coach and ally, not my judge.

Although Mr. Scheele was a good teacher, he was no superstar.  The gift he gave me had little to do with his talent or training as a teacher.  He encouraged and inspired me to learn, which is far more important that the content of his lessons.  These are the essential gifts you can give your children as you homeschool.   Most of the details of your curriculum or course of study will soon be forgotten, but if you inspire your children, they will keep learning and searching for answers.

Our school system is obsessed with minutia and testing.  Many parents buy or sign up for a curriculum in hopes of teaching their children “what they should learn.”  The importance of one subject or study over another can be debated endlessly, but the real value in homeschooling is in learning to learn. Beyond that, a student must be inspired to learn to gain the most value out of his studies.  I wanted to be a good student and I already had great curiosity, but Mr. Scheele encouraged and inspired me when I needed it most.  You can drag your student through the most rigorous course of study known to man, but if you don’t inspire him, his efforts will bring a lackluster reward.

My other inspiring teacher was a superstar.  He was one of those rare and amazing teachers who can bring out talents his students did not even dream of.  Dr. Dale taught a number of classes in the Music Department at Whittier College.  Most music students complain that Music Theory is difficult drudgery.  Dr. Dale made it easy and fun.  I was certainly his least prepared student, having never studied piano, let alone harmony.  Most of my classmates had studied those disciplines for years, yet there I was.

In fact, I was there only because Dr. Dale had noticed how I hung around the Music Department and participated in every vocal venue available.  Although I loved to sing, I thought that since I didn’t play piano, I could never major in music.  One day, Dr. Dale invited me into his office and asked me why I wasn’t majoring in music.  He insisted that I could and should change my major to Music and showed me how it could be accomplished.  He convinced me to enroll in his Theory class where he proceeded to teach us, almost effortlessly, how to listen to four-part harmony and write it down accurately like a secretary taking dictation.

The real lesson I learned from Dr. Dale had nothing to do with writing down notes.  I learned that I could do anything I put my mind to if I would put in the effort and find the right mentors.  This lesson should be a no-brainer for homeschoolers and their parents, but sadly, too many homeschool parents are still locked in the box of schooling.   I also learned that I could and should follow my passion and my talent.  I was bored and frustrated for two years of college until I moved to the Music Department where I really belonged.

How many bored and frustrated homeschool students are slogging through a “standardized” curriculum, religious or secular, yearning for something that feeds their brains and their souls?   It is a myth of modern schooling that you must learn a prescribed course of study before you enter college or the work place.  Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of unschoolers, over the last 40 years, should have put that canard in its final resting place!  If a student can read and write well, reason his way through an argument and do whatever math is required to do the job or pass the entrance exam, he can find employment or get into college.  But no matter how many Carnegie credits he shows on his transcript, he is handicapped if he has not learned the lessons I learned from Dr. Dale and Mr. Scheele

Every parent can and should do what these two men did for me.

©Excellence In Education