Sunday, October 9, 2011

What Have YOU Taught Today?

Say it with me: curriculum doesn't have to be a mile wide.

Let's repeat: curriculum doesn't have to be a mile wide.

I say this today in honor of my public school brethren and my homeschooling/alternative schooling partners who tend to panic this time of year (and I count myself in both groups). This is the time of year when The Test begins to loom large, the threat of not making AYP begins to throb in the back of administrators' brains, and the sheer volume of curriculum left uncovered becomes apparent.

I recently fielded an urgent cry for help from a friend of mine who is a homeschooler from way back. She has migrated from eclectic homeschooling to unschooling due to a recent spate of death in the family and other unfortunate events that have left her not quite able to prepare for teaching every day. This is a temporary move, as she can’t quite bring herself to leave her child on her own just yet (said child not quite ready for that either), but her message consisted of many lines of self-flagellation, followed by the list of reasons why she just couldn’t do it right now. Other homeschoolers have proudly posted lists of everything they are learning and doing every day, lists that are incredibly long. I have found myself nearly succumbing to the pressure of GETTING IT ALL DONE, slipping easily back into public school mode of curriculum coverage instead of subject understanding (coverage was a big part of your annual evaluation as a teacher - you had to offer proof that you had presented all of your standards in the classroom, multiple times if students didn't demonstrate they heard you).

Think about the body of knowledge in the world, all of it. Is it possible on any level to "cover" it all? Stupid question. I have a running joke with my family that I know 10% of everything (when I don't know something that is part of the other 90%), but it is truly impossible to even scratch the surface of what there is to know. Some would find this daunting, but I find it soothing. If I can't possibly teach everything there is to know, why don't I just focus on teaching what I do teach really, really well? You know, the "quality over quantity" approach? If I am doing my job and you are, too (whether you are a parent or a teacher in a classroom), then your kids will (eventually) be able to apply the skills of observation, analysis, problem-solving and criticism to any task they face, from building a retaining wall or writing an essay in college. It isn't a matter of checking off what has been covered, and it shouldn't be.

To my frantic friend, and to my former public school colleagues, I offer this piece of advice, advice from a button my friend sent me when I founded HoneyFern and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work I had to do: breathe. Get up every day, focus, and do the best you can for that day, realizing that "the best" changes from day to day. Focus on quality of instruction and materials, laugh with your kids, enjoy them. If you get caught up in quantity and numbers, learning isn't fun, and a teacher who sucks the joy out of learning is no teacher at all. I am not talking about blowing off rigor and not expecting your kids to struggle a bit. Struggle is part of the beauty of learning. I do belivee, though, that levity and a sense of humor relaxes everyone and makes them more receptive to tasks that are challenging; students are more likely to try harder when the pressure is off.

And remember: curriculum doesn't have to be a mile wide.

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