The Difference Between Homeschooling and School at Home

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An Open Letter To Virtual School Parents… And the Educators Who Serve Them.

To best support our distance learning teams’ efforts, we need to recognize the difference between homeschooling and schooling at home.

I am not homeschooling… and you might not be either.

Throughout my adulthood, I’ve worked in a lot of different capacities. I’ve been a student, an intern, a temp employee, a corporate cubicle warrior, a work-at-home mom, a freelance writer, an author-illustrator, a childcare worker, and most recently, a member of the school staff. In my corporate life, I’ve worked in adult learning and human resources. At schools, I’ve been in the central nervous system of education: The front office.

In Spring 2020, when social distancing and sheltering-in-place were put into effect, I returned to working at home with my child. This change seemed to put all of my past experiences to work and all of my abilities (and sanity) to the test. For so many caregivers, it kicked off the challenge of a lifetime. Here in Wisconsin, I couldn’t help feeling trapped at home, with the outdoors too cold, cloudy, slushy, and snowy to spend much time outside to clear my head. I remember the stress of trying to balance so many emerging responsibilities amidst the doom and gloom. Thankfully, homeschooling was not one of them.

Home plus school does not automatically equal homeschool.

I have a few friends who decided to legitimately take on homeschooling and all it entails this year. I am amazed by all they do and accomplish. My teacher friends — homeschoolers, distance learning, and in-person alike — do a tremendous amount of work. With all the new terms we’ve been using and learning since the pandemic began, it can be easy to throw around the word “homeschooling” as we navigate distance learning. But the majority of us are doing one, not the other.

While we were initially thrust into a wholly new and evolving educational situation in the middle of the 2019-20 school year, looking toward 2020-21 was entirely different. We’d all had time to think and plan. As the new term approached, my child’s district decided to give families the choice of how they wished to participate in schooling: In-person or online. As a family, we decided to commit to virtual learning. And, boy, was it different than it had been in those first few months of the pandemic.

Virtual learning continues to change… and evolve.

Over the summer, educators had gone above and beyond in the thoughtfulness they’d put into creating a whole new learning environment for students and families. It was impossible not to see all the work they put into adapting to often-evolving sets of circumstances. After investing in their own personal and professional development, they came together with all that they’d learned to do what many may have thought impossible: They created an online community. It wasn’t the same as the in-person communities we were used to, but they still somehow had the potential to meet many of our virtual families’ needs and concerns.

This brings me to this important distinction: I am not homeschooling. I am helping my student… attend school… at home.

Working behind the scenes and on the front lines with teachers and school staff before the upheaval of the pandemic was a transformative experience for me, as a professional and as a parent. Before I worked in a school, I had an idea of what teachers did and what students, parents, peers, and the community expected. But I can’t say I truly understood the scope and breadth of those expectations — especially the toll and sacrifice they take.

Teachers can be exceptional human beings.

They do the work of many, with the resources of few. They are constantly learning, from meeting their own continuing education requirements to looking for ways to better connect and engage with students, often on their own time. Amidst their pursuit and support of lifelong learning, they have to actually do their day-to-day jobs… Research, create, and present lessons. Keep their workspace clean, organized, and full of supplies. Manage and mentor groups, teams, and individuals. Provide feedback, grades, and extra help. Take on other duties throughout the school. Generally do whatever they can to contribute to a happy, healthy, and productive community.

This is not to dismiss what we virtual school parents are doing right now.

I am trying to support my child, family, and community in many ways to make sure my student defines and finds success in his distance experience. However, most of what I’m doing now is what I have the privilege of doing to support his education at any time, in any form. Yes, I have more hands-on opportunities throughout the day than I might have if he’s on campus. Yes, I’m definitely more engaged now than I have been in the past because we’re home together so much. Yes, to many more aspects that may be different this year, which may require more of me to succeed.

But I am not homeschooling.

I do not write lesson plans. I do not present assignments. I do not hand out grades. I do not search out and set up tools and resources. His teachers do that; I support the work that they do. I help manage his school commitments and responsibilities. Just as I have before, though admittedly not to the level of engagement I do now.

Whatever our format, whatever our role, we are a team.

After working in a school and getting a real up close and personal look at what teachers do and how I had a newfound appreciation for their work and impact. Playing a more connected role to the school community this last year has increased my appreciation even still. I don’t claim to do their job. I won’t ever, and I can’t possibly. But I do know better now how I can truly contribute to the work that they do. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to hold school at home right now, and I’m thankful to his teachers for their vision, commitment, and community building.

If anyone is homeschooling, it’s them.

 

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