Over the summer, my wife and I went to a home school fair and expo, to recharge the old batteries and get some new ideas, and there were several break-out sessions aimed at dads. Excited to see offerings just for me, I signed up. To my chagrin, most were aimed not at dad as teacher, but dad as supporter, as nurturer or lover to mom, as dad stay-out-of-the-way. None of the sessions really focused specifically on dad as teacher. As it turns out, there are very few of us that help in that role. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s no secret that dads play an important role in the traditional household. I grew up hearing “Just wait til your father comes home,” as many of you did, and those expressions are still uttered in households where dads are present. There’s no shortage of studies that show the importance of dad’s mere presence, let alone involvement, on the development of mature, healthy, adults. But let me speak directly to dads who may be reading this: you play an immense role in your family’s home school as well. How so, you may ask? My wife’s the teacher / one who wanted to do this in the first place.
If that attitude is yours, shame on you. Even if you are not involved as a teacher, your interest in what your wife and the kids are doing throughout the day will be evident to your children. If you want your children to be excited about school, you should be, too – even if it wasn’t your thing way back when. Do I like Teen Titans Go!? Heck no, but I watch it sometimes and listen to Collier talk about it anyway. That’s my job. And so it is with homeschool, but how do you get involved?
- Step up in the planning
You should be involved as much as possible in the planning and procuring of curriculum, lesson plans, supplemental materials – to the extent that is possible in your household. At this moment, my wife is probably rolling her eyes because I myself don’t always help in all those areas, but I do as much as I can. Even if you won’t be able to teach a single subject, your family should know you’re on board. Go with your wife to the Parent-Teacher Store. Sit by her side as she browses resources on the internet. Offer feedback and suggestions when she bounces ideas off you for the school year. Help her set up the official classroom or learning space for homeschool, although learning will probably take place all over your home, and maybe your yard, in the car, and who knows where.
- Jump in and teach something
If your occupation has some flexibility to it (there are a number of careers that do, these days) and you can do it, I suggest jumping in and teaching as much as possible – ideally, 50% of the work load, but even if it’s just a few subjects, that’s okay. Offer to take on the subjects that you are really interested in. As an English composition teacher, I advise my students to write what they know, or what interests them, and the product will be all the better for it. The same is true for teaching. I once got an online review on one of those “rate your instructor” sites that read “you could tell he didn’t want to be there if the content was boring that day.” Guilty as charged. Some days, the material didn’t speak to me. The point is, if a subject is not interesting to you or not your forte, choose again, if that’s possible. You and your spouse and any other stakeholders who might be teaching your children need to sit down and figure out who should teach certain subjects. There are several other ways you can get involved if your schedule doesn’t allow you to teach, but that’s another post altogether.
- Be ready and willing to change
Understand that effective teaching requires flexibility. My method was to sit side-by-side with Collier and teach him for most subjects, but there were some changes along the way. With reading, initially, I would read the passage, then he read the same passage out loud, but we noticed he was struggling with that method, so we switched to him reading it silently at first, then aloud the second time. The changes won’t necessarily always be how you teach – it may be what you teach. Last year, we started out teaching fine arts, but decided to scale that subject back in favor of more life-skills oriented subjects.
Notice that in my methods, there were changes throughout the year. We are going to do more changing this year, as we plan on doing less sit-at-the-desk work. We won’t be doing less work – just less at the desk. Who says you can’t work on spelling out in the yard while swinging? That’s the beauty of home school. If something is not working, don’t be afraid to make a change. You may have chosen your content and curriculum and chiseled it in stone, but the methods that you use to teach it have to be flexible. All good teachers know the importance of being able to adapt, and homeschoolers should be no different. There are similar learning styles, but no two children are exactly alike, as you well know, so what works for someone else may not work for you.
Home school Dad wears a different hat than that of regular old dad. When you are taking on teaching your child, the “wait til your dad gets home” gruff-tough-persona must be set aside. That doesn’t mean you don’t guide your children, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t discipline them, but yelling at your students to get them to understand the material won’t work – trust me, I taught high school, and I tried – there’s a balance in finding the right method to teaching your own child or children, especially if there are special needs.
You can do it, Superdad, and remember, not all Superdads wear capes. Some of us carry red pens instead. Just kidding. You shouldn’t use red pens. Ever.