Mom tips: Have I become THAT teacher?

Remember that teacher? The one who made your life miserable, who insisted that you could do better? The one you swore you would hate forever, and who was the subject of your most vengeful fantasies?


I had one of those teachers. Now, I AM that teacher.

For me, it was my pre-calculus teacher. Until that point, I had coasted through math. For the first time, though, I had to work. Knowing the answer wasn't enough -- Mrs. Barrows made me explain WHY.

As a parent and homeschool teacher, it's always a fine line -- do you give your child leeway because he's yours? Or do you push, knowing he can do better?

That's the current battle with my son. He's articulate and a high-level reader. On the other hand, getting him to put words on paper (or screen) is worse than getting him to eat vegetables.

I've been lenient, I'll admit that. Short essays. Oral reports. After all, he knows the material. He doesn't just spout back facts -- he offers insightful analysis and commentary. So who cares if he writes it down or tells me in conversation?

Well, he started high school this year, and it's a different world. Suddenly, being able to write is going to matter -- he wants to take classes at the community college, but they won't admit him without a writing sample. So this year, we're tackling writing.

One plus of homeschooling is that I can modify the curriculum to each child's interests. This year, the two teens are participating in the countywide History Day. Part of National History Day (http://www.nhd.org), this competition allows students to show off their research and analysis on a topic of interest. This seems the perfect match -- Aidan loves to do in-depth research on any subject that catches his attention, and he can choose the format of his presentation -- oral, written, visual or some combination. However (and this of course I kept quiet), each and every area requires at least SOME written work.

So all fall, he's been doing research. He started with the English Civil War. Too broad a topic -- so he chose the battle at Naseby. He spent months reading, searching online, finding maps, finding first-person accounts.

(As an aside, it was fascinating to watch his research. Military history is something I know nothing about, and even after quizzing my more knowledgeable friends, I could only give minimal suggestions. In spite of this, he had a long bibliography in a short time.)

Research in hand, Aidan came to me. "Great, so how are you going to present it?"

And that's where things fell apart.

He had already decided that he would do either a display or a documentary, leaning toward the former. NOT a paper (no surprises there). However, all the ideas he had for a thesis were far more suited to a long research paper. He balked at that, and declared "I know all the information, I can tell you about it -- do I really HAVE TO do a project still?"

That was where I had to put on the "mean teacher" hat. Sure, he knew the info, and had some interesting theories and insights about it. Sure, he had proven his research skills. BUT, the agreement was that, in addition to researching, he would also have to create a project for History Day. So I responded that YES, he did have to do a project.

Oh the agony! Oh the horror! How could Mom be so mean?

And I had to step back and take a breath. I tried to explain that it wasn't MOM who was insisting, it was his teacher. That we had agreed to this as his history course for the year, and somehow, he would have to find a way to put the project together.

After several days of sulking, he decided to step back and start over. This topic wasn't working; maybe it was time for a new one. A few days were spent searching for a new idea. This time, he went into it realizing that yes, the information has to be presented at the end, so some interesting subjects may not work.

I suspect he's still angry about the whole thing, and resents being told that he MUST complete this part of the assignment. I'm sure that there will be many tears over the next month as he puts the final presentation together. However, trite as this may sound, it will be good for him. He needs to learn to reach further, and that life won't always give him the easy way out.

Years later, if you asked me who my favorite high school teacher was, it still wouldn't be Mrs. Barrows. On the other hand, if you asked which teacher had the best long-term impact, it would, without doubt, be her - she taught me to work, to push myself to do more.

I can only hope that someday my children will say the same about me.