Great Piece on Homeschooling Older Students

Mary Biever is an Indiana homeschool mom who writes periodic email pieces on the topics of mothering, homeschooling, and being a lover of God. She has lots of wisdom, and a wonderful way with words. If you want to subscribe to her posts, join "Marynotes," a yahoogroup. Or send an email to

When the Teacher Hat Changes

By Mary Biever
Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Permission is given to forward this email in its entirety, with attribution.

In a pride-filled moment, I mentally adjusted my homeschool teacher mom hat. After seven years in this game, I know how to play. My kids are the students, I’m the teacher, and my job is to teach them, correct their mistakes, and show them how to do things right the first time.
If they balk or complain, my job is to crack down and let them know who’s the teacher and who is the student.

I already learned that script years ago, when we studied phonics. Their phonics manual had a set daily script with flashcards, hands-on games, oral exercises, written practice, and spelling practice. All I had to do was pull out that day’s materials and work our way through the lesson. If the lesson didn’t click the first time, we just repeated it or relied upon the daily review to help the concept click. The weekly test helped me gauge what the kids knew and didn’t know.

Suddenly, we’re in middle school. The textbooks no longer have scripts. With preteens, the parenting no longer has a script either. The mom who can change a diaper on any carseat, who can nurse a baby in a sling while walking and shopping, so discreetly even her husband doesn’t know it, and manage 15 high energy kids on a field trip is at a loss. Sometimes it feels as though parenting older kids means my I.Q. drops 5 points per month. On bad days, it can feel like I’m losing 10 I.Q. points in a single hour.

Fashion emergencies can explode into family wars. If the skirt’s not too high, then the neckline’s too low. Then there are the t-shirts. Or rather the t-shirt sayings. When someone told me what one said, I didn’t get it until I Googled the phrase and discovered it meant. Then there’s the t-shirt length. A girl’s t-shirt can be 6 inches shorter than a boy’s shirt in the exact same size in the same department store. My definition of dress-up clothes for a nice event does not include camouflage anything. Don’t ask to borrow someone’s thongs because they are now called flip-flops, and thongs go places we don’t discuss.

The kids’ language books listed the steps to writing a good essay. Math problems have steps, so I figured the kids would follow the steps, and the essay would magically appear. First step – an outline and thesis.

But one thing was missing from my daughter’s perfect essay writing experience: her cooperation. I sat down with her, just as I sat with those phonics lessons years ago, put on my teacher’s hat and was ready to begin working with her. My writing teacher’s hat’s a little taller than others because I already write.

My every attempt to work with her, to show her how to write “right” failed. It didn’t just fail but exploded into clashes of will speckled with dashes of temper sprinkled through comments on both sides.

She wanted to write her essay her way – not my way. The harder I pushed, the harder she pushed back.

Finally in frustration, I called a mentor mom whose daughters are older than mine – who has traveled this undiscovered country before me. “What do I do?”

“Back off. Let her do it her way. See what she puts together and take it from there.”

She did. The next week, she asked for my help. How could her essay be better organized.

Out of desperation, I changed tactics. Our kitchen table writing exercises had become a battleground of ground gained and lost. The problem when the school table becomes that battleground is sometimes the child’s work or child’s heart is the real loser.

I thought back to kids I had tutored. Sometimes I worked with their final product and helped them rework it into a better essay. My tutoring rule is to give 3 compliments to every criticism. In the heat of battles with my own daughter, I forgot that rule and tried to wear that phonics teacher hat where I was the teacher and by golly, she was going to learn!

Maybe we needed neutral ground on which to tackle this essay. So we went, just the two of us, to a bakery/coffee shop. I always enjoyed writing in restaurants, and maybe she would too. First we enjoyed scones and fancy coffee and then pulled out the instrument of torment: her essay.

For an hour, between bites of scones and sips of Earl Grey tea and mocha latte, I helped her reorganize her essay. Some stuff was thrown by the wayside, and we added more details to others. We worked on that dreaded thesis statement and outline to make sure it made sense.
The best part was we didn’t have a single fight. I suddenly discovered she had some good ideas to put in her essay and just needed to polish them a little. When we argued, I had been so intent on winning the argument and putting her in her place that I didn’t listen to the good ideas she did have.

We can’t afford to go out to eat whenever she has a writing assignment. However, I learned from our breakfast out writing that I need a new teacher’s hat. The old one could follow a script. The new one, for older kids, needs to transition more into a mentor role where I guide what she learns. Instead of sitting across each other at the table, we need to sit beside each other, perhaps not as often, so we can work together to help her move to the next step.
When we parent, the kids aren’t the only ones who grow in the process.
And when we school them, we often learn far more than we teach.


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