Teaching Other Peoples’ Children

Teaching Other Peoples’ Children: Part 1

Posted in Over a Cuppa

Ian & Wendy Wilson and their only son Samuel, 9, (Names have been changed to protect privacy) home school in the Auckland area. Ian is a tradesman and Wendy is a trained teacher. She saw what could be done with children when you had time for individual attention in a country school where she had only 12 children and taught those same 12 for four years. Then she taught in a city school class room with 35 children. She saw the bright children stunted in their potential. She saw the average and slower children wilt for lack of individual attention because you can only do so much and sometimes even less when there is a disruptive child or two in the class. It was at this point that Wendy decided she would never want to put her own child into such a system.

So when she began home schooling Samuel, they were the only ones doing so in their part of town. Then Freddie, two years younger than Samuel, was brought around. Could Wendy help him out? He had been at school a whole year and he still could not even form the letters of the alphabet, and now his behaviour was deteriorating. OK, she agreed, but for only four mornings a week.

Later on another parent came along, whose marriage had broken up. She brought Conner who was exceptionally bright, and the same age as Freddie. During his second year at school Conner seemed only to be going backwards, and his behaviour was getting really bad. Wendy directed them elsewhere. But they came back, with tears in their eyes, please teach my son! Righty-o, we’ll give it a try.

It was on a Sunday night, three weeks before the Christmas holidays when their guard was down, when another set of parents, the husband being a workmate of Ian’s, rang up about their 13-year-old daughter! She was becoming unruly and rebellious. And she wasn’t learning anything. Both parents worked full time. Surely a girl of this age would not want to be in the same class as three tearaway boys half her age? Nevertheless, Kathy joined the Wilson home school for the three weeks to the end of the year.

Fortunately Samuel was able to work fairly independently. Freddie required independent attention. Conner went from being incompetent in most subjects to being a full year ahead in maths after only 6 months. The challenge was to keep enough work in front of him, he chewed through it at such a pace. Kathy had developed the habit of just stumbling along when she didn’t understand anything and would never ask for help. It turned out that she was well behind Samuel. Conner soon passed her. She was probably only behind Freddie in reading except that he was more aware of when he needed help. After eight years in school, she was six years behind! She had epilepsy which meant she wasn’t with it some times, but would tune in later on. Even so, after two weeks in the Wilson’s home school she herself declared she had learned more in those eight days than during a whole year at school. Her parents couldn’t believe the 180 degree turn-around in her attitude since she was now even cooking meals at home for when her parents returned from work. And she liked the home school situation, even though she was being taught, for the most part, the same things as the boys. At this stage the parents asked if Kathy could join the Wilson home school again next year. “OK, we’ll see what we can do.”

It was only meant to be four mornings a week. Wendy made it clear that the children’s education was ultimately the parents’ responsibility, not hers. She also explained her philosophy that education is life and that she was only helping out in the formal academic area. However, Wendy was taking Samuel to Music sessions and to the library on Mondays, Art on Tuesdays and Gymnastics on Thursdays, so the others came along as well. Wendy and Samuel really tried to keep Wednesday afternoons and Fridays just for themselves.

The competition, especially from Conner, was pushing the others along. They would all sit for the same reading/ discussion sessions in Bible, history, science or whatever and then turn around to their desks for individual work. But Conner turned out to be a hyperactive smart alec. He would taunt and tease the others because they weren’t as smart as he. Now if  Samuel cut up, Wendy could deal with him fairly smartly and effectively, being her own son. However, with other peoples’ children you have to take a different tack, especially when these other people do not share the same faith or value system as was the case here. Wendy finally mentioned it to Conner’s mum. . .in fact, she put the ball into her court . It appeared that Samuel had been complaining that if he behaved like Conner did, he’d get the strap. Conner’s mum subsequently announced, without explanation, that she had come for Conner’s books. She thanked Wendy for all she had done and then left. They haven’t been back.

Wendy does charge a daily rate, but it is less than the rate she has to pay the housekeeper to come in to do the chores she cannot get around to herself. Being a trained teacher has not been an advantage as far as she can tell. She does not want to change her home into a school, although they did have to build the desks, get a white board and make sure they started at the same time each morning. She of course doesn’t have the same amount of time to give exclusively to Samuel. He liked it when she did, especially because he could get his Mum to read to him, rather than him reading. He could get her to help him compose sentences rather than him working them out on his own. He has been forced to become more independent in his studies, which up to a point has been good for him.

Discipline is a bit of a problem, since all the children come from such different backgrounds, none of which match the Wilson’s. But they reckon they are sowing the seeds of faith in their visitors since their attitude toward “religion” is not the negative one it used to be.

All in all Wendy says there are definite positives and definite negatives to home schooling other peoples’ children. The issue which looms largest in her mind is to do the best she can for all the children. Anyone else thinking about teaching other peoples’ children at home should weigh up the pros and cons as they see them for their own situation.

Says Wendy, “Believing that discretion is the better part of valour, I don’t say ‘Yes’ initially, but, ‘We’ll give it a try for a few weeks.’ The fact that Samuel is an only child made us more open to the idea, and there have been definite advantages for him. However, the more children I take on needing a great deal of individual attention, the less effectively I do what I originally set out to do–educate my own child. At what stage does he become disadvantaged? It would be very comfortable to be brought well adjusted, capable children from good Christian homes, but that’s not how it is. So it becomes a question of how much service we can be of to others while still fulfilling our primary aim and responsibility.

“If we feel there is room for one or two more, should we only consider taking children from families who share our world view, or do we give others the opportunity to hear the gospel and fit in? We ourselves feel there is a place for the latter provided that such children are prepared to conform. Who can tell what God may do for our visitors? Our prayer as we begin our studies each day is that God would bless each of us in our learning so that we would live lives that honour and glorify Him. “

From Keystone Magazine
May 1995 , Vol. 1 No. 2
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
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email: craig@hef.org.nz