The accidental home educator

In a previous post “To school or not to school” I discussed thoughts I had pondered and issues I had considered when deciding the future education of my daughter.

Although the main focus of that article was whether to school or not, home education was not only not my first choice, but not even a consideration.

The merest hint of an idea of starting my own school had niggled away in the back of my thoughts for a long time. More than ten years before that article was written, I was in college studying the teaching of literacy when the idea popped into conscious thought. In response to an assigned task, which required that I explain how I would implement a literacy program in a school, I surprised my lecturer (and myself) by explaining how I would do so in a school that I established. Although I was never afraid of placing my own spin upon a set task, I never really expected the idea of establishing a school of my own to be anything more than just that.

In the ensuing years prior to the birth of my daughter, my son completed his primary schooling and I taught in a variety of roles, some of which were the most rewarding of my career. During those years I met many other teachers with a similar dream of starting their own school. They were mostly creative and innovative teachers, passionate about their own learning as well as the learning of their students. They inspired their students with an energy that at times seemed infinite. But they felt stymied by the formality and top-down approach of traditional schooling which they, like me, believed to be detrimental to children’s learning and personal growth.

Many of these teachers left the profession, unable to conquer the battle between philosophy and practice waging within. Others continue teaching, constantly trying to balance their beliefs about learning and the needs of their students within the confines of the expected formal and didactic approach to teaching. Others have become burnt out, feeling isolated and unsupported, succumbing to the pressure to conform.

Few teachers take action to make their dream a reality. Whatever one’s beliefs, it takes a great deal of courage to step outside the norm of accepted practices. To establish an alternative school, in addition to this courage, requirements include a bottomless well of financial resources, an infinite ability to persist under the onslaught of unremitting obstacles, and a firm commitment to ideals and philosophies.

When Bec was born the nagging of this idea was so insistent that I was compelled to bring it out from where it was hiding and give it some serious consideration. Without any real understanding of the magnitude of the task ahead, without a well of financial resources, but with a firmly-held belief in what I was undertaking, I set upon the road to turn the dream to reality.

Me with a group of my young learners.

Me with a group of “my” children, including Bec in the middle.

When Bec was about 2, I established a small home-based (but not profitable) business providing educational care for other 2-3 year olds and educational play sessions for parents and children.

For the children in care, I provided a stimulating learning environment with lots of talk, books and hands-on exploratory activities. I provided support as they learned to have a go and developed confidence in their abilities.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

In the play sessions I guided parents’ engagement with their children in play, explained how they could develop vocabulary and concepts, and provided suggestions for them to continue at home. Even after 20 years, parents still tell me how valuable those session were to their children’s education.

At the same time I investigated and explored alternatives to traditionally schooling available in my area but was disappointed that none exactly met my criteria. Some were too laissez faire, others followed pedagogical approaches I believed to be unsupportive of children’s learning, and others were based on philosophies I didn’t agree with.

I began constructing a vision of what my ideal school would be. I invited other like-minded teachers to join me and we got to work on building a team, enlisting families, and seeking out a facility.

Composing the vision statement.

Composing the vision statement.

Approval by the education department was easily achieved and interest of parents was forthcoming. In the end, the greatest stumbling block and final inhibitor of the project was town planning.

Throughout those establishment years Bec was not enrolled in a school. She was educated at home while we waited for my alternative school to open. We participated in some home schooling group activities, and I continued to conduct home-based educational sessions for Bec and other children. After about 5 years and two aborted starts, the project was terminated and Bec’s home education came to an end. Well, it really didn’t come to an end. She continued to do a lot of learning at home, but as she was enrolled in the local government school, it was her official education provider.

I often wonder what our lives would be like now if my dream of opening an alternative school had been achieved.

It was difficult making the decision to let it go. I was torn between two equally compelling but conflicting pieces of advice which vied for my attention:

snagit persist and listen

I do believe I gave the dream my best shot, but after a long time and many false starts, I decided that perhaps I should listen to the messages. With most families, like ourselves, more interested in an alternative school than in home schooling, it was time to let it go. Other families, like me, were not enamoured with the local offerings, but then, also like me, had to decide the future of their children’s education.

I no longer felt comfortable asking families to stay committed to the goal with no tangible start date in sight, and after a final search for a suitable property hit another dead end, the idea was abandoned. I was not committed to home education as a long-term alternative for Bec’s education, and so finally, in year 4, she started school.

4 thoughts on “The accidental home educator

  1. Bec

    Hi Nor,

    Thanks for sharing this story, it’s very interesting for me to read since I was a wee person during this time. I hope though that you don’t feel like there is a dichotomy between ‘reaching your dream’ and not getting there. People always say the journey is what counts, and there are so many positive outcomes from your journey. It’s also great that you are sharing your story now on this blog so that you can inspire others who have similar feelings about institutionalised education, but may lack the confidence to pursue alternative options. They can learn from your experiences and you may never know the reach of your impact on the world, but it is out there – positive waves of change.

    Bec

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    1. nco04662 Post author

      Hi Bec,

      Thanks for your comment and support. You are right of course, and I don’t regret the journey.

      I will indeed try to trust in the positive waves of change, the ripple effect.

      Remember – you are one of those waves!

      Norah

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  2. Rosie Thrupp

    How brave you were to go as far as you did! Brilliant! The critical and creative thought it must have taken and the energy….

    So many times I have considered a school outside the bureaucracy without the limits but politicians and policy still find a way to limited and oppress that which is of benefit to the individual and the Nation.

    What a depressing day? Julie Bishop back in government after what she did to reporting and assessment last time she was in government.

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    1. nco04662 Post author

      Hi Rosie,

      Thanks for your comment and support. I appreciate your kind words.

      What is happening with education in Finland sounds exciting too, don’t you think?

      We both know that you and I, and many other wonderful teachers, always strive to make the learning opportunities for our students engaging, meaningful to them and targeted to their needs.

      I read somewhere years ago, that one of a bureaucracy’s greatest expenditures of energy is on maintaining the bureaucracy. If that be so, then it follows that little energy would remain for anything else, let alone something innovative.

      Norah

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