How Homeschooling Helped Me Learn How to Learn

“Look it up.”

As a homeschooler, especially once I got into the pre-teen and teen years, those were probably some of the most common words out of my mother’s mouth. A good 90% of my questions were answered with the phrase, “Look it up.”

At the time, we didn’t have internet, so “look it up” meant getting out our big Webster’s Dictionary (the red cloth-bound version; it was falling to pieces by the time I graduated high school) or one of our two sets of encyclopedias, and actually looking it up. Probably a good third of the time, I decided knowing wasn’t worth the effort of looking it up. I was kind of lazy that way as a teenager.

Now, the internet has made looking it up simultaneously easier (just type a word in the search box!) and harder (after all, you can’t trust anything on the internet!). But the principle remains the same. When you don’t know something, when you can’t figure something out, when you don’t know what something means…you look it up.

That little life skill probably saved my life (well, at least it saved face) when I went on the mission field six years ago and found myself in a teaching position with no degree or experience in teaching (unless you count teaching Sunday School and babysitting. Which I don’t).

The first two years were deathly hard. I hated every minute I spent in the classroom. It sounds horrible to say it, but I did. It wasn’t at all what I had signed up for when I went on the mission field. I had no idea what I was doing (as a homeschooler, I had never even been in a classroom, so I didn’t even know what it was supposed to look like!), and I finished each day frustrated to the point of tears. The learning curve was steep.

So I looked it up.

I started reading everything I could get my hands on. (Thank God for Kindle!) I read books, articles, journals; theory, how-to, creative ideas. What I read, I put into practice in the classroom. Some of it worked beautifully. Some of it crashed and burned. Some of it looked like a nuclear explosion. And sometimes, ideas that worked for one class one year, didn’t work at all for the next class the next year.

But through it all, I learned. And although I would love to say that I’ve arrived, that I’m a “real teacher” now, that I know what I’m doing….unfortunately, all I can say is that I’m a much better teacher now than I was six years ago.

But then again, it’s the same thing that my co-workers with degrees in education and twenty years of experience say. So maybe I’m not doing all that badly, after all.

Homeschooling did nothing to prepare me for being unexpectedly thrust into a classroom setting. My perfect score on the reading section of the ACT didn’t help me to teach phonics to my 4-year-olds, at least not at first. But what homeschooling did do for me was teach me how to learn. By the time was 13, my mom’s involvement in my schooling was minimal. She checked my work and administered my tests, and that was it. I was responsible for sitting down every day with my textbooks and figuring out what I was supposed to know. It’s something I’m still doing today. And it has served me very well.