One of the ways our family can quickly put an end to the concerns voiced by people who question our choice to homeschool is to explain that I was once a professional elementary school teacher. Generally, that’s enough to calm anyone who assumes we have not thought out our decision as well as they have in the 10 seconds since they heard that we homeschool. It is a great way to avoid the long discussion of why and how we educate our children when we are pressed for time, but it always feels like I am cheating; for, not only am I avoiding a potentially awkward clash of educational philosophy with a stranger, but I am not doing justice to the legions of homeschooling parents who have never taken an education class, yet are productive home educators of children who excel under their tutelage. As a former teacher, I do feel like the classes I was required to take in college to prepare for my teaching certificate were valuable in preparing to work with a classroom of 30 children within the framework of the public school system. And to be clear, I have a great deal of respect for teachers who work to educate the children entrusted to them, because I know first-hand that it is a challenging profession that requires a great deal of skill and planning to discharge with excellence. That said, very little of what I learned to be a professional teacher overlaps with the skill-set necessary to be a home educator.
For instance, studying child development is an exercise in generalities, and can be helpful to some classroom teachers, but is something that a home educator can learn along the way with her own children. How worthwhile child development classes are for professional teachers is up for debate, since the bulk of an average child development course required for elementary teachers is spent studying birth to age 5, or the preschool years. The marketplace is full of excellent books for parents who want to get a grasp on where their children are developmentally compared to other children, should they so desire. However, a home educator who is willing to know a child as an individual can forgo the need to learn about how all kids generally think and behave. While it can be valuable for a teacher who works with a large group of children to know how a 10-year old generally functions, for a home educator it is enough to know her 10 year old as a person and deal with him according to his specific strengths and weaknesses.
Another topic covered in teacher training consists of the basics of classroom management. A home educator need not worry that she missed this aspect of teacher training at all. A parent generally knows how to manage her children. The same techniques that are used to get your child excited about learning to wash the dishes (be excited, too) or drive the car (let them study something that interests them) can transfer directly into the home school setting. There is no need for a parent to practice common classroom management techniques such as not smiling until October, ways to get “ring leaders” on your side, or dropping the volume of your voice to make the roomful of children quite down so they can hear you. If a homeschooled child is pouting her way through a math assignment, parents can use the same techniques they already have in place for when the same child pouts her way through a plate of broccoli.
Additionally, while I am a big believer that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it, I do not think that home educators need to know the minute details of the history of the educational system of their country. If one is not actively involved in advocating for certain policies, then a home educator has no need to know the history of education at all unless it is a field of interest. I personally feel that the history of educational policy in the United States is fascinating, and I encourage anyone with an interest to pursue it. That said, if you are homeschooling because you have heard what early LDS Church Apostle John W. Taylor called the “spirit working among the Saints to educate their own offspring,” or felt inspired by the experience of Enos who was “taught by [his father] in his language and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” and as a result knew that his father was just and his God was blessed, then the state of the schools now or one hundred years ago does not matter one whit when weighed against the promptings of the Spirit. Perhaps your family is homeschooling because you feel, as Joseph F. Smith did, that, “if we will have our children properly taught in principles of righteousness, morality and religion, we have to establish Church schools or institutions of our own.” If this is the case, then the history of schools does not matter so much as the current state of schools. Those who chose to homeschool based on principles such as these do not need to be concerned about the changing winds of educational policy through the years.
Another topic that teachers are required to learn is federal education law. The one (sometimes) required course on education law is merely an introduction for potential teachers to the basics of current law, which is subject to change at any time. An intimate knowledge of all the federal education laws is impossible to grasp in one class, let alone state specific laws. This is why schools employ lawyers and administrators to decipher the laws and inform the teachers about compliance requirements. If you are a home educator, you should only need to be familiar with the laws of your state regarding home education, which can be found either at the state’s Department of Education website or at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (http://www.hslda.org). People in countries other than the United States should check with their country’s Department of Education. Most areas have an active group of seasoned homeschooling families who will willingly help you understand the local requirements.
The one area where my professional teacher training has helped me as a homeschooling parent has been in curriculum development. In these classes, potential teachers are taught to view a topic as a series of smaller parts that can be taught to a class comprised of students who may learn things best through the different senses of hearing, sight, or touch. As someone who learns best through reading, who has a child who learns best through touch, I am glad that I was made to design hands-on lessons repeatedly in my preparation courses. Yet, while I found these classes helpful personally, there are people for whom these skills come naturally. Additionally, home educators who are nervous about lacking these skills can sidestep the issue by buying a prepackaged curriculum that includes everything you will require or by using a book like The Well Trained Mind, which lays out a wide curricular path from which the home educator can make specific decisions about what would work well for her children. Over a year or two of using such methods, some parents find that they have acquired development skills through experience and careful observation of how the prepackaged lesson plans were organized. At this point, parents often abandon the prepackaged systems all together in favor of personally tailoring their children’s education. A parent can also opt to take a course in curriculum development or pick up a text on the subject to study on their own. While I find this topic valuable in my homeschooling, I do not think that that every home educator needs to learn it within the walls of a college classroom.
As you can see, it is not necessary for a home educator to receive a degree in education, as little of the teacher preparation translates to the home school setting. Neither should the lack of formal teacher training deter people who are considering homeschooling as an option for their family. Much of what is required of a home educator is learned over time as you raise your child. The aspects of teacher training that do transfer can be learned through personal study. For a home educator, the things that are most important are a desire to see your child succeed in learning, a persistent nature to do the work required to guide your child through their education, and a belief that home education is the best choice for your family. John W. Taylor, Collected Discourses 2:138  Enos 1:1, The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.  John F. Smith, Conference Report, Oct 1915, p.4
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