Sunday, December 18, 2011

Teacher Vs. Facilitator

I've been thinking lately about what exactly makes a good teacher, and it's not a degree or certificate, that’s for sure. People who've earned those pieces of paper may have gained all sorts of knowledge, but it certainly doesn't guarantee that they'll be any good at teaching. 

I would guess that most of us have had teachers who were awesome, who loved their jobs and the material they were teaching, who wanted to share that love with their students. But, most likely, we’ve also all had teachers who simply should have been doing something else besides torturing students and killing any interest or joy in learning- the ones who don't even seem to like students, but seem determined to spread misery. 

When a family makes the choice to homeschool, the parents are often questioned as to their capability to teach, as if having that piece of paper is the only way they could handle teaching their kid. The fact that they studied fashion or business in college, or...heaven forbid...they didn't go to college, makes them incapable of sharing any other knowledge. 

The pressure comes from within too. Years ago, a good friend told me she "didn't feel qualified" to homeschool her child. The friend had an engineering degree and her child was three years old. was preschool, as in colors and counting, not rocket science for goodness sakes. Like most kids, this one was sent off to professionals, and fortunately most of them have been decent so far.

Other kids I know have been subjected to teachers who've humiliated and labeled them, and pretty much convinced them that they're stupid. The kids aren't stupid, just bored or wiggley or interested in something besides what the teacher is trying to make them learn. I’ve been pretty judgmental about bad teachers in the past, but I also think that a large part of the problem is in the very system itself.

Having sat on both sides of the teachers desk, I know without a doubt that the students I enjoy most are those who actually have an interest and want to be there. 

Excitement is certainly contagious - if the teacher is excited, the sentiment is likely to spread. The key to it all is interest though. If the students genuinely don't want to be there, but they feel forced into it, then they aren’t going to learn in any real, meaningful or long term way. So, in that scenario, what exactly is the point? It's a waste of everyone's time.

It's great when a teacher wins over reluctant sudents, although it's a lot easier when the students actually wanted to be involved in the first place.

When "students" start out uninterested, and remain so, well... everyone involved (teacher, other students, and the one who doesn’t give a hoot) would all be better off if that reluctant person chose to spend their time someplace else. The trouble in many instances is that the student does not have any choice- they have to be there. The thing is... you can sometimes force a person into a learning environment, but you cannot force them to learn. Even if you succeed in coercing them into memorizing facts or passing a test, you can’t “make them” remember long term, nor can you make them care.

It's not just with kids either. Besides homeschooling my own kids and teaching a few homeschool classes, I also teach Childbirth Ed and Breastfeeding classes to adults. Most of my students are willing- at least the moms, some of the dad's were drug there, and you can tell. I try to make it fun for them, and generally win them over, but once in a while, they just aren't into it. Personally, not to be rude, but if they don't want to stay, I prefer if they skip it then. If someone is coerced into coming and spends the class texting, rolling their eyes and sighing the whole time, it's not exactly joyful for me, or the person sitting next to them.

I've realized that I prefer to be in a role of facilitator rather than teacher. The difference isn’t just the wording. It’s also the attitude. I don’t feel the need for any of my "students" to take an exact piece of knowledge from the material. I don’t need to test them to see if they learned what I wanted them too. Instead, I’m interested in what was important to them--- what they did learn. 

I want to know what my students, whether children or adults, are interested in and to help them find the answers. We all take away different bits and pieces based on what’s important and matters to us. I want them to get concepts and understand processes- to question and think. I don’t want them to just fill in bubbles and parrot what I tell them.

In my recent experiences of teaching kids other than my own, I enjoyed it so much that I briefly considered getting a teaching credential someday. Then, I thought about the hoops and constraints and frustrations of trying to force feed prescribed material to non willing kids. No thanks. I don't think it's a system I'd fit into very well. 

I think I'll stick with being a freestyle facilitator. I can bring interesting material and have fun sharing ideas and projects of my choosing. I have the flexibility to adapt and change things based on the individuals and the group I'm working with. The students enjoy the time, and so do I. 

For parents who are afraid you aren't qualified to teach, you might try facilitating instead. 

Yes, yes, I know that at some point there are things they "have" to learn. But if you can be flexible on when and how, and trust the students, you might have a lot more fun, and be amazed at what everyone picks up in the process.


  1. In my view, there's no question that homeschooling offers the student a unique learning experience that is unrivaled. Traditional schools teach to the lowest common denominator and can't address individual strengths and interests with the depth that is possible in home school. I homeschooled my daughter for 7th and 8th grades, was totally intimidated by the process, but I think it was way win-win in the end. I was able to indulge her passion for cooking in a way that never, repeat never, could have happened in traditional school. Cooking became a vehicle for improving her vocab and reading comprehension (as confirmed by the SSAT she took in 7th and 8th grades) and culminated in the self-published, "Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T." I wholeheartedly recommend this book as a homeschool test prep tool and hope it inspires creativity and innovation for homeschool families.

  2. Critics of homeschooling are rightfully threatened by the process. Traditional school generally teaches to the lowest common denominator and cannot indulge individual interests and strengths in depth. Home school offers the option to explore and develop students' areas of strength and passion. I home schooled my daughter for 7th and 8th grades and found it to be totally win-win, even as the process intimidated me all along the way. I was able to allow her to indulge her passion for cooking and use it as a vehicle to help her work on her vocabulary and reading comp. Her success was proven in her performance on the 7th and 8th grade SSAT. The outcome of this project is the self-published "Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T." I recommend it to home school families as an innovative and creative tool to help prepare for the verbal section of all standardized tests given in middle school and high school.I hope it serves as an inspiration to home school families, demonstrating the endless possibilities for curriculum development.

  3. In the last 14 years our family has been involved with many facets of education from the "headstart" preschool Salmonberry in Trinidad where I relearned the art of kindness and friendship with Kathleen Nunley, to Big Lagoon Charter School (Humboldt county) where parents created a waldorf inspired public charter school that was a dream come true, to homeschooling through a public charter (Del Norte County) when I felt my children would not "thrive" in the local public school and their academic and social needs would not be met. Each decision was based on the child's needs and fortunately the ablity of our family to provide and support that need. Currently our move two years ago presented a unique opportunity for our children to attend a triple accredited private Waldorf School. This school has the ability to use dicretion and teach to the child in areas that would be considered spiritual, cultural and social, areas that are taboo in mainstream public society.They are also getting a traditional classical education, one I strived to provide for them while homeschooling. While I was their home educator, (facilitator) we traveled to NP and wild and natural places that did not cost dollars as much as it cost the time and energy to visit and learning took place with the child leading. When they developed their physical place in the natural world, literature became the vehicle for imaginations to explore and look beyond the physical world before them.(We are an NPS family and have always lived near a national park) The disconnect in my view is the legacy that children have inherited of not having thier needs met in a physical sense and therefore an inability to truly thrive in the academic areas that schools are geared towards. When poverty or fear are what is normal in a child's life then using their thinking capacities are inhibited. I do not have a college degree but have been attending colleges for the last 20 years to futher my knowledge about what is important to me. It has been successful in that I can find the answers to my questions and learn new concepts everyday. This is what I need my children to learn. Not only kindness and friendship, self-help or social responsibility, geometry or language arts, athletics or world history but the art of deciding for oneself what is important to "know" not just in terms of self but in terms of contributions to family, community and service of the global world. I support all teachers, public, private or homescool because they have chosen a path that leads the way for children to see that the future is maleable, that their mindful choices are necessary for a positive outcome. While there are a few teachers that had personalities I did not always find agreable, that is what the world is about sometimes. Tolerance and respect for each other regardless of our personal beliefs, we are looking into the eyes of a fellow human being and we can learn from them as much as we'd like to, or not. Homeschooling provides the support of family to say "no" to what has been decided by parents is not part of the family vision in terms of education. Our children has tested beyopnd their years since they were three but it is not until now that one is a teen and the other 9 that I see that for all their intelligence, nothing could replace the authentic experience of learning by doing and for that I thank you Pamela in feeling confident that I could "handle" being their teacher. You are awesome!!!

  4. I started out homeschooling with the idea that I needed to teach my four kids. But gradually I learned that it's all about facilitating. Kids understand and retain knowledge when their curiosity and interests drive the process. That's true of all of us. Research shows that the more "instructional" approach, the more passive the learner. And that's the case whether an adult is showing a toddler how a toy works or getting over-involved in structuring education when that child is older. It's funny how what kids "have" to know comes easily once we trust children to learn in ways that are best for them on timetables that are most natural for them.

  5. Thanks for all your feedback. The more time I spend with kids, the more convinced I am that facilitating often trumps "teaching" and that there are many wonderful ways of learning.
    And you're welcome Yvonne! We love and miss the time with your beautiful family!

  6. Beautifully said! I learned this after I started trying to teach my second. My oldest had spoiled me because she was a natural and voracious learner. My son was very focused on one thing (at that time it was dinosaurs) and nothing else existed for him. It wasn't until I started using his interests and accepting that he learned completely different from his big sister that things improved. I honestly believe you need to gear subjects toward individual interest if you want the student to learn so that the subject stays with him. Otherwise, it's like teaching to the test--The student learns it only for that short term goal and then lose it.


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