Teachers, We Need to Talk about the Children.

teacher-piece

I come from a family of teachers, I have been an unofficial teacher myself in many ways, including a spell of homeschooling my own children. Now I find myself to be an unschooling parent but if you were a teacher and I was at your side before the kids enter the room this would happen.

 

Firstly I would say how much I admire what you do.

 

Secondly I would make you a cup of coffee or tea and ask you if you would like to put your feet up. If I had biscuits I would offer you one.

 

Thirdly I would tell you that we do things differently and here is how.

 

Our children self direct their learning. We support from the sides as gently as possible. We have no classroom, there are no uniforms, there are no tests, there is no curriculum, there is no homework. There is no work, actually, unless they choose to define what they are doing as work. There is a lot of playing. Our kids are thirteen year old twin girls, and a boy that is ten. They define their day.

uniforms

 

I would then ask you if you would like another cup of tea or coffee and then I may say that I am finding this situation a little awkward. Telling you about how our kids learn is contrary to everything I ever learnt at school, I might say that, or I might not. I might ask you if you want to ask me something? I might jump forwards in the conversation and tell you what our kids can do, as a sneaking feeling of insecurity may sweep over me. Or else I would read from your face that you can see that I am fine with the fact that our kids are learning at their own pace. I would tell you that our kids learn a lot through Minecraft, I would tell you that our home is so noisy that occasionally I have to go into another room to have a bit of silence, I may tell you that our kids cook a lot and sing loudly and they laugh a lot. I would say when they choose a project they run them, that learning happens in waves. That sometimes you wouldn’t know what they were learning and that I was just fine with that.

 

I would tell you that I thought that education was changing so very fast that I was confused that schools were, as Ken Robinson states designed for a time that no longer exists. I would most likely say that I do not believe that learning is linear at all and that kids learn when they have fun and are passionate about a subject and that a lot of children I know do their best learning when moving. Then I would wonder what you thought about that. Then I might say if unschooling was an island  floating out there on a sea of knowledge then, was schooling an island too just a larger more established one? Then I would wonder if you or I could imagine a bridge between these two islands or whether unschooling and schooling are simply too far from each other to ever connect up.

 

I may see someones rucksack that has been left behind and ask you if you were aware how much Disney are infiltrating our children’s brains through constant bombardment of images. I would tell you that my husband writes about this beautifully in this book, look on page 31.

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I would look at the clock on the wall and become aware of the time, I would notice a flicker of something cross your face and I would know that the children were about to enter the room. That the school day was about to start and that parents were rushing to get on with their days, the children were gathering, from all over to meet in this building and that you, dear teacher were about to start your day.

Once again I would say how amazing I think that you are to be able to hold a classroom of so many different types of children with varying needs and dreams and I would wonder what you really thought of the current schooling system. I would also be curious to know if you would like to know more about unschooling? Then, as the kids rushed past me I would see if I could instinctively gauge what each child was feeling in that moment. I would then go back to my house where the children are loud and doing their own thing and I would wonder if the whispers of unschooling and autonomy could soften the edges of learning? And if so could I, teacher, meet you again, same time next week and then I will tell you all about how we do it.

kids-doing-make-up

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About the Author

Lehla is an illustrator and an author of books, she has written for The Guardian. She trained as an actress at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She wrote The South African Illustrated Cookbook, The Lovely Book for Wonderful Women and she illustrated a kid's book by M.J. Amani called 'Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read' and also 'I am Me, You, Us and We' by Caroline Trowbridge. Above all she is a mother to three fast growing kids, she juggles her time between them and working on new books and projects. She has recently co authored with Anthony 'Jump', Fall, Fly - from schooling, to homeschooling, to unschooling' Her art work can be seen at http://lehlaeldridge.wix.com/lehla-

6 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Luminara says:

    Wonderful post Lehla! I also come from a family of teachers. You’ve inspired me to write a post about how that is for us. I love the idea of you sensing into what each child feels as they go into their classrooms. I often look at the children walking to school in the mornings and feel deeply for them, I want to lean out the window and shout “You deserve to be free!”. I’ve recently decided to create a Facebook page for children who are home educated to share their feelings about education and their thoughts about schools.

  2. Jazzy Jack says:

    I love this angle. I too have often thought about the teacher’s perspective.
    I like the image of the islands. I am surprised at how many exteachers unschool. Is it because they are super interested in education anyway, or do they know things about school from the inside?
    I am unschooling my 11 and 14 yr old boys and we’ve never felt happier…or freer!
    My eldest recently visited his friends back at school for lunch for the first time since starting. “What are you learning?” was heard while he showed them his handmade wooden guns. Each a careful replica. “Well, could you do this?” was his reply. A proud Mum moment.
    Xo Jazzy Jack

  3. Yes, I often think about the teacher’s perspective too and also the perspective of children who are in school who don’t necessarily want to be there. Most children that our kids meet, when my kids tell them that they don’t go to school they say ‘Cool!’ and then they just move on and carry on playing that has seemed to be the common response but there have been moments when it has really confused other children and that is complicated all round in a way. Lovely that you had a proud moment!

  4. Thank you Luminara, aaah your from a family of teachers too! Great, I will look out for you FB page, does it have a name yet??

  5. I love your writing – well crafted and still so personal.

    I was close to a number of teachers in my son’s old elementary school, before we pulled him out. None were thrilled with the choice, but most supported it, knowing that traditional school wasn’t the right fit for him. One special education teacher, though, was especially wary of my decision to school my son at home. He is autistic, but had been progressing at grade level in a mainstream classroom with an aide to help him focus. She said that, in her experience, homeschool was not a good choice for special needs students. I can only assume that assessment came from students with parents who gave up and sent kids back to her with a losses in what the districts deemed to be important skills.

    We had a good relationship with the school and continued to return, for a time, to an after-school art program which Liam loved. It was held in one of the autism classrooms. We would sit outside of the classroom and wait for the kids inside to be led out to the waiting busses (our school was one of the few in the district with a full-time autism program and kids were bussed in from all over). An aide waited at the bottom of the ramp and would say goodbye to each child, not letting them pass until they made eye contact – a skill deemed important by therapists and teachers to make people who are not autistic feel connected, but something which is uncomfortable and insanely difficult for some autists to manage.

    I even volunteered as an art teacher in the school, when they lost their funding due to a clerical error. I often worried about the kids for whom art was as necessary as breathing. As the chair of the arts committee, I would fight with members of other committees to be sure that ALL of the teachers were including meaningful arts in their children’s days. When I looked at the children, having worked with most of them, I’d wonder if the one with architectural talent would get Mr. Wi, and his creative use of design tools, or be constrained to a less creative teacher with no outlet for her talents. Or I’d wonder if the quiet autistic boy who loved music would ever learn anything more than the random, interchangeable, itinerant music teacher could teach him.

    I would love to see a bridge between what we do and traditional schooling, but so long as our districts are focused on achievement tests over whole-life learning, we’ll just have to help those who have jumped off the big island to swim across the channel to our little one.

  6. Thank you for your kind words about my writing Deborah. It is really interesting to read what you have written about your son and his and your experiences. I am really curious about what you say about making the children use eye contact and wondered whether you thought that was a good idea or not when it was so difficult for some autistic children to manage. Amazing that you volunteered as an art teacher. Yes and I agree I do think for some kids art is so very important and can as a subject get horribly overlooked. Yes I would also love to see a bridge and I like what you say about helping people to swim across to our little island.

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