Teaching Ex-Homeschoolers: Tips for Bridging Gaps and Building Trust

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Are you a teacher working with homeschooled students? In order to work with them and support them to grow, it is important to understand and respect the reasons why they were homeschooled. Building a strong relationship with the family will also go a long way, as well as diagnostic testing and assessing their prior knowledge can help identify gaps in understanding and skills. Wellbeing in the transition to school is another primary concern, and you’ll need to be aware of their workload and social skills to ease potential anxiety and isolation. Here are some suggestions for supporting homeschooled students in your classroom.

Understand why they were home schooled

This is the first and most important thing: if your don’t understand and respect why this particular student was homeschooled, you’re not going to know how you can support them and their family.

I taught a student once who had recently decided that he wanted to go back to school.  His mum couldn’t stand sending him back, but she knew that it is what he needed. She had struggled over the last few years to support his learning at home, and so finally brought him into a school to join my class part-time. 

Understanding the student’s determination and his mum’s anxiety helped me sort this family during the transition. I needed to make sure that the student found success and pride in his accomplishments quickly because he would go home and get excited about it to his mum. 

I also needed to understand their dynamic – his mum didn’t want this, but she was willing to trust her son and give it a shot. She trusted him, and i needed to make sure I was someone that she could trust as well. 

There are many different reasons why parents homeschool and it is important to not make assumptions about what they are. Many teachers think very poorly of parents who choose to homeschool, and this does nothing but drive that wedge deeper. 

If a family is coming to you for help, you need to understand where they are coming from. 

Build a strong relationship with their family

In the case mentioned above, I called mum every afternoon for two weeks. I let her know how her son had gone through the day, focusing on success and praise. I also made sure to demonstrate how well I was getting to know her son. 

The first four weeks in a new class are essential. This time can make or break a relationship for the rest of the year and beyond.

Your focus doesn’t need to be intense in the long term, especially if you can build up trust and understanding early. 

Do some diagnostic tests

One of the major things that I noticed when I started teaching ex home schoolers is that they often had unusual gaps in understanding and skills.

Thorough diagnostic testing is one of the best ways that you can support these students to help identify anything that they are unsure about or haven’t seen before. Many parents are highly skilled and thorough in designing homeschool curricula, but they may not place emphasis on certain skills or core understandings if they don’t have as much experience or formal training. 

As a maths teacher, I would have a year 10 students who would be absolutely fine with most things, but then couldn’t interpret a graph. They could use all the right terminology to describe the graph, but couldn’t say what it actually meant in context. 

These tests will of course benefit all students who you are teaching for the first time. It is particulate important for working with ex homeschool students that you are prepared to reduce anxiety about starting school. 

Be aware of their workload

Many homeschool students have different routines and expectations placed on them while they are being home schooled. I’ve taught students at either end of the spectrum.

Some came from families who firmly believed in learning in context and making use of real- world learning opportunities. These students had never sat at a desk and written for more than 15 minutes at a time. 

I’ve taught other students who spent all day at a desk doing problems and completing worksheets for the entire school day.

Always assess prior knowledge

If a student has been homeschooled, they are likely to have had the same person teaching them for their entire schooling up until this point. If they’ve been working closely with other homeschool students, they are also likely to have grown up with the same group. This means that the pool of opinions and perspectives that they have experienced may be more limited than some of your other students. 

You might be teaching a different perspective to one they have seen before. The first obvious example that comes to mind is the Australian Gold Rush – some students may have focused on the workers’ rights movement and how this influenced unions today, and completely missed the elements of racism regarding immigrants looking for gold. I know that with my schooling, it was the reverse. 

Understanding the perspectives that they have been taught is the first step in opening up their world view. If what you’re teaching is completely at odds with what they have already been taught, new information is unlikely to be learnt. 

Be aware of their social skills

Almost all of the ex home school students that I have taught were very socially confident. They were happy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone and were very easy to talk to. 

One thing that I have noticed is that they may not be familiar with social norms around schooling. 

Many of these students talk to other students in the same way that they talk to adults, which the other students might find odd. Many of them are also very confident in sharing (and justifying) their opinions, and so may not fit in as well with their peers.

A lot of ex home school students are also unfamiliar with engaging in conversations about topics that they aren’t really interested in if they have spent most of their time around a small group of like minded people. 

None of these are bad qualities or problems in any way, but being aware of the subtleties of your student’s social interactions can help you work with them in the context of their class and again, ease potential anxiety and isolation. 

Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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