Overview: Guest contributor Lynna Sutherland from Your Large Family Homeschool has wise counsel for when you’ve outsourced a homeschool class for your teen, and it’s not going well. There is hope!
My mother likes to remind me that when she was homeschooling my siblings and me, she had two choices for curriculum: Abeka or Bob Jones. We are blessed now to live in what very well may be a golden age of homeschooling when choices abound!
Not only do we have more curriculum options than we can fit in a pros-and-cons spreadsheet, we also have so many opportunities to completely outsource entire homeschool subjects through online classes, tutors, and even local co-ops.
By the time your kids reach high school (and especially if you have a number of other kids coming up through the ranks), you may very well be considering an outsourced homeschool class or two (or more). But, with great opportunity sometimes comes great fear — what if this is a terrible situation for my child??
Let’s talk through some possible scenarios. This may help you decide what to do if you’ve already found yourself in a sticky situation, but it can also help if the potential what-ifs are keeping you paralyzed with indecision. Thinking about ways you could handle the challenges should they come might give you the confidence to step out and give it a try!
NOTE: The information below applies to high school level homeschool classes that are online or in a co-op situation (or something similar), NOT to dual enrollment college classes. In a dual enrollment situation, your teen will need to act like a college student and either drop the class or communicate with the teacher themselves. For more information about dual enrollment, see Episode 64: Dual Enrollment – is it right for you? and The Quick Start Guide to Dual Enrollment for Homeschoolers.
What to Do When Your Teen’s Outsourced Homeschool Class isn’t Going Well
1) When academics are the rub
If you are considering an online or co-op class for your homeschooled high schooler, this may be your child’s first experience with a teacher other than you, the parent. That can be an exciting opportunity, but it can also be a source of anxiety for both you and your child.
As the homeschool parent, sending your child to learn under another educator can feel like a final exam on your parenting and teaching skills. Will you be uncovered as a fraud? Have you actually failed your child for years without knowing it?
For your student, needing to learn the expectations of a different teacher, meet regular deadlines, and perhaps experience grades and tests for the first time may be a source of concern.
It’s true that learning with a different teacher may uncover some gaps — either in skill or knowledge — that you weren’t aware of. But if there truly are areas where your child needs extra support or practice, it’s a mercy to discover those needs now while they are still in your home.
Open and respectful communication is the key. You want to know that the teacher respects your efforts and trusts your motivation, even if there are areas that need extra work. In the same way, the teacher wants to know that you trust their ability to assess age-appropriate and subject-appropriate work and communicate about areas of struggle.
Discuss with the teacher the best way to approach these challenges. Does your student need extra tutoring? Is there something you can work on at home to accompany the classwork? Or, might your student need to switch to a different level or class for this year and try again when they have more experience?
In a situation like this, as uncomfortable or embarrassing as it may feel, having the input of another educator who has observed your child up close in a homeschool class environment can be a tremendous blessing and benefit. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about how you can best help your teen learn.
2) When the teacher’s style or personality is a challenge
Leaving our children in a situation where their personal safety or mental wellbeing are in jeopardy is never an option. If you have concerns (even just a gut feeling, or you are noticing things that feel like “red flags”) follow up and take steps to remove your student from an unsafe situation.
However (with that caveat in mind), it isn’t always in our children’s best interest to shield or rescue them from situations that are unpleasant. Part of the process of growth and maturity is learning to work alongside and learn from others, even when those other people are different from us or what we are used to.
So, how do you know if a challenging teacher-student relationship in a homeschool class is a deal-breaker or a character-growth opportunity? It’s a tricky balance and requires careful thought, but here are some points to consider:
*Remember, your primary goal is to provide your child with education in a particular subject — say, Geometry. If the relational tension is so great that your child is virtually unable to concentrate or learn Geometry for an extended period of time, this isn’t a good fit.
Yes, even if it’s because your child is “too sensitive” or you suspect it’s a matter of your child’s immaturity rather than a flaw on the teacher’s part, if the challenge becomes an obstacle to the very purpose of outsourcing, make a different plan.
*If you can, check with other parents. Is this a teacher who has a reputation for being harsh or unreasonable? Or is this a teacher who is known for holding kids to high standards, even if it isn’t the most fun they’ve ever had?
Feedback from other parents — especially parents whose children had the teacher in a previous school year and have the benefit of hindsight — can help you gauge whether this is a known issue or an opportunity for growth.
*Keep the conversation open with your student. Even if you realize that this is an area where they need to grow in maturity or responsibility, respond to their concerns with empathy and not shame or scolding. It’s important that you not shut down pathways of communication, preventing you from being able to keep track of the situation.
Choose other times — maybe when you’re riding in the car together or chatting over smoothies — to share some helpful guidance about responding wisely in difficult relationships.
3) When other students in the homeschool class are the issue
You may worry about your student landing in a class with an overly harsh or rigid teacher. But on the other end of the spectrum, your child’s teacher may lack the leadership needed to manage a homeschool class and to keep everyone productively on track.
This situation is similar to above. Your goal is outsourcing the education for your child on a particular topic, and if that learning is rendered nearly impossible by the classroom environment — even if you know the teacher is doing everything they should — then it isn’t a good fit for your learner.
However, often times the situation is more in that gray area of not-ideal-but-not-horrendous. Depending on your child’s personality, he might be more prone to join in the shenanigans, or to be annoyed and irritated with his classmates and perhaps his teacher!
If learning is not being hindered, then use this as an opportunity to learn how to focus and make the best use of a situation even when the environment is different than they prefer.
4) Watching our babies leave the nest (i.e. when MOM is the problem)
Of course, it’s never fun to watch our children struggle. But sometimes, if we’re honest, we might be more distressed about the situation than our child is. We’re eager to know we’ve done well for them in their education. We’re desperate for encouragement and affirmation. And we want our choices validated by positive outcomes.
Sending our children out into the world — even if that “world” is only the weekly homeschool co-op at the Baptist church down the road — can be a scary step for a homeschool mom. Make sure to listen well and carefully to your teen and not project or reflect your own fears onto their impression of the homeschool class experience.
Yes, they might spend the whole ride home telling you how terrible the teacher or the class is. But by tomorrow or next week, they might have an entirely different perspective. Allow your child to ride the waves of challenge, disappointment, discouragement, and even correction without jumping in too quickly to rescue them.
Keep your ears and your heart open and keep the conversation going. Chances are, this will be a great learning opportunity for you both!
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