Sometimes the Best Teachers Don’t Need a Degree

Worried about your qualifications as a homeschool, or future homeschool, parent? Join me as I discuss the characteristics of great homeschool parents!

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Two years ago when my daughter was seeking a scholarship for a local art school, I had a somewhat uncomfortable conversation. In the midst of the interview, the subject of homeschooling came up. The registrar looked at me quizzingly and asked, “Do you have an education degree?” I replied that I did not; they aren’t necessary for homeschooling in PA. She grew completely perplexed and replied, “But how do you teach things you don’t know?”

This question caught me rather off-guard for two reasons:

  1. I had honestly never even thought about it, and
  2. Does having a degree automatically mean you know how to do everything?

The registrar is not alone in asking this question. In fact, the idea of a parent not being qualified to teach his or her children has crossed the minds of many would-be homeschoolers and scared them away from ever going through with their dreams of homeschooling.

Realistically, however, most homeschool routines don’t even remotely resemble a typical school day, so the qualifications needed in a traditional classroom are somewhat different than those necessary in an at-home setting.

My hope here is to encourage those of you who are doubting your ability to homeschool by listing the characteristics of a successful homeschool parent because, as you will see, they are probably nothing at all like the typical idea of what an average teacher looks like.

(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy.)

A great homeschool teacher will:

1.Receive questions with open arms. Unlike traditional school teachers who must often stick to a script, homeschoolers have the freedom of drifting away from a discussion or lesson if more intriguing ponderings arise. Just today I was reading Madeline with my younger children. A book that would normally take five minutes turned into a twenty minute discussion about Paris, old telephones, appendixes, scars, nuns, steamboats, and- my children’s favorite- retellings of their own experiences with hospital visits. A discussion like this would most likely not have happened within a school setting because of, among other things, time constraints, but at home we have the freedom to explore ideas with our kids as they arise. Questions are a blessing. Delight in inquisitiveness!

2.Encourage their children to learn how to discover answers for themselves. While it is, of course, necessary to help your children when the need arises, it is also so important to help children learn where and how to find resources for themselves. Although my children and I visit the library regularly, the other week I took them there for the main purpose of explaining the Dewey Decimal System to them and taking them on a tour of where to find specific types of books. Giving them opportunities to research online is also something that is necessary in this day and age. I know that many parents have mixed feelings about Google, but I consider it to be hugely beneficial to our learning endeavors.

3.Give their children plenty of time for exploring interests. Some of the most crucial and most important learning does not come from books, but from life. Learn to see the world through your children’s eyes, instead of through the schoolish lenses most of us possess, and you will find value in just about everything your children do. Keep in mind that the hobbies of your children now may well be training for their future. Kids who like to play school may become teachers, and those who insist on taking everything apart to see how it works are likely to be budding engineers. If your children are actively exploring life, there is no such thing as wasted time.

4.Have a plan for those occasions when they don’t know how to help with a certain subject. As the saying goes, the world is our oyster when it comes to information and resources in this day and age. The most common piece of advice for situations like this is to hire a tutor, but many one-income (and some two-income families!) simply cannot afford it. Thankfully, there are plenty of other options for getting help with those difficult areas. A short sampling would be:

-the library

-friends, neighbors, and family members

Khan Academy

-the good, old internet


The options are really endless. Just keep an open mind about how learning happens, and you’d be amazed where the help can come from!

5.Let their children have a say in what they’re learning about. Think about it. Can you concentrate on something you have no interest in and no need for? Me neither. My older children all give input on what their learning plan will consist of. My oldest daughter loves psychology and will be taking it for a third time next year (her senior year). This could never have happened at our public high school, as they only offer one half-year course on it. Why force her to take a Social Studies credit that she’s never going to need in real life? It just doesn’t make sense. I guarantee your kids will put more effort into work they consider to be useful and interesting.

6.Know when something isn’t working and be willing to change it. Sometimes a particular curriculum may look phenomenal to us parents, but when our children set out to doing it, they don’t feel the same way. If your child is struggling to the point of tears or complete apathy, it’s time to ditch the book and move on. This is one of those other areas that homeschoolers have the advantage. Since public schools have limited budgets and slews of students to purchase textbooks for, they don’t have the option of doing this. While I certainly do remember trudging through those dry textbooks in high school, I don’t remember one important thing out of any of them. I know sometimes it may seem like a waste to discontinue something you paid for, but it is so much more important that your children can learn well. Unused curriculum can easily be saved for younger siblings (maybe they’ll like it!), sold to other homeschoolers, or even given away for free to a family with a limited income.

7.Drop everything they know about “school” and design a plan that works for their family. I want you to close your eyes and remember what your school days were like. Crowded hallways. Cramped desks. Bathroom passes. Ringing bells. Do you have a clear picture? Now, push that picture out of your head because homeschooling does not have to be like that. Observe your children. Take notice to how they do things and what they spend the most time on. Only you can decide what is right for your family. And I’m here to tell you that you may not get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the third. 🙂 All kidding aside, you will figure it out, and your children will thank you for it.

I was going to title this post “What Makes a Great Homeschool Teacher” but decided against it because, to many of us, homeschooling doesn’t feel like teaching. It feels like life. It feels like family. It feels like love. That is what it takes to make a great homeschool parent. Are you qualified?


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Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

36 thoughts on “Sometimes the Best Teachers Don’t Need a Degree”

  1. Wonderfully written! I have a teaching degree and found it to actually hinder my homeschooling so much at first. But I can tell you first hand that the majority of my college classes focused on classroom management; something that is completely useless to me! Many of our books are scripted as teachers and tell us what questions to ask and what answers to expect (though I can’t ever remember a single student ever giving me the scripted answers I was supposed to be looking for!). Homeschooling isn’t at all like teaching and I’m thankful for that. What we do here at home is much more organic and stems from my kids not from me. Mostly I just want to foster a love of learning and teach them how to find all the answers they ever wanted to know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. I really appreciate getting an opinion of someone who has both taught and homeschooled. I think that people who don’t have any intimate knowledge of homeschooling often default to the notion of classroom teaching methods because this is what they know. But, unfortunately then, they apply that to homeschooling and automatically assume that parents aren’t qualified. I’ve actually even seen comments referring to homeschool parents as pompous for believing that they can actually teach their own children.


  2. Really interesting post! When I’ve thought about home schooling (we’re still at the toddler stage right now!), a big factor against is my own feeling of inadequacy. How would I be able to teach? But, then, most primary teachers here do a degree in one subject, then just convert to teaching on a single year course. They’re not – nor do we expect them to be – experts in everything. x #FridayFrivolity

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here in the US, those who earn teaching degrees learn mainly about classroom management, so that’s something that really isn’t needed in the home environment. I don’t think we expect teachers to know everything, but, when comparing teachers to parents, people usually assume that teachers know more by default. Thanks for hosting!


  3. Love this, in fact my last post was about what you really need to homeschool. I am so happy to share this on facebook for my readers, I know they will not only find it encouraging, but helpful! Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing this insight. In this day and age, it’s much easier to find the resources needed to educate children in whatever fashion. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think parents really need to find confidence in their abilities. For centuries, parents were the primary source of instruction for their kids. The concept of public education is a fairly new one, but I don’t think most people realize that. Thanks for commenting!


  5. …and guess what? My husband and I are BOTH teachers, but NEITHER of us has an education degree! Totally unrelated to the job of teaching – and teaching has nothing to do with *knowing* all of that information, but being able to *convey* it successfully! Thanks for joining us again at #FridayFrivolity this week!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Degrees and rules hold you back. It doesn’t allow for you to think on your own. You know what I mean? True learning exists out of the box. If a degree keeps you trapped in the box, I say – what’s the use?

    If you teach in a traditional school setting – you definitely need a degree.

    Obviously, homeschooling is nothing about school.

    I have a degree. Not a teaching degree, but I have a degree in Molecular and cellular biology. Yes, I can teach science and math all day long – and love to do that. But I’m at a loss for art. I needed help with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am a public school teacher who has a lot of love for homeschooling. I know a lot of people who do it or have done it, and am considering doing it myself when the day comes (I’m newly married with no children, and we are not planning on having any for a few years). That being said, I would have to disagree with some of the things you’ve said about public school. I would argue that any good teacher PERIOD (homeschool or public) does most, if not all, of these things, it’s just that it looks different in different situations.

    You stated on point #1 that “Unlike traditional school teachers who must often stick to a script, homeschoolers have the freedom of drifting away from a discussion or lesson if more intriguing ponderings arise.” In my public school teaching assignments, I have never had a script I had to stick with, and every teacher I’ve ever worked with, and even in my college education toward my degree, “looking for the teachable moments” was always emphasized!! Public school teachers embrace questions as well. It shows that students are interested and engaged.

    #2 Encouraging children to learn how to find answers for themselves is a big push in education these days. The kids can access any information they can imagine from the internet if they just know how to search for it. A good teacher, even in public school, realizes that the game has changed and they aren’t the all-knowing giver of information, but that it’s our job to teach students how to find information and how to USE it.

    #3 is probably the hardest to do in the public school, but that doesn’t mean that public school teachers don’t aim for it. One thing that I’ve heard a lot about recently in my trainings is providing choice as much as possible. For example, in English class letting the students choose what they write their papers over instead of giving a prescribed topic, or even sometimes letting them choose the books the class reads together!

    #4 is also important for public school teachers, because, as someone above mentioned, the questions asked by students rarely match the questions answered in any script or teacher’s edition of a text book. It goes back to #2 and being aware of the resources available and being able to teach students how to find information and use it. It’s SUCH an important skill in our technological society.

    #5 may actually be the hardest. You’re just not going to get away from the required courses and required standards for each class. Public school teachers can get student input (such as what books they want to read, what they want to write about, what projects to do, etc.), but this is an area where homeschool definitely has the advantage.

    #6 is also relevant and important in a public school classroom. A good teacher can teach their subject outside of the textbook! Like you said, new curriculum can’t be bought, but a teacher knowledgeable in his/her subject area can find or create supplemental material or reteach difficult concepts. People make a big deal about how there are such time constraints in public school, but sometimes you just can’t move on until a certain skill is mastered, and a good teacher can recognize that and make changes in their teaching to get students where they need to be.

    Also, the education I received in college working on my degree was NOT primarily focused on classroom management. There was a lot of focus on teaching strategies and understanding child development, and all sorts of other things–some that would applicable to homeschooling, some that would not. And the modern classroom does NOT look like the schools of the past; it’s quite different even than when I was in school, and I’m only 25. It is much more flexible and receptive to student feedback than people realize. Many people make it out to be strict and immalleable, and I’m sure that may be the case in some places, but it’s unfair to make judgments about public school based on preconcieved notions or past experiences that are not longer relevant to the classroom. I’ve worked with teachers who employ technology, games, movement, and student choice in their classrooms. Most teachers I’ve met bend over backwards to meet student needs.

    I’m not saying any of this to dismiss what you wrote–I LOVE what you wrote. Again, I have SO MUCH LOVE for homeschooling and homeschooling mamas, but I also have SO MUCH LOVE for public school and public school teachers. Each version of school and learning has it’s pros and cons, it’s easy parts and it’s difficulties. I think public school teachers can be GREAT teachers, or they can be crappy. I think the same goes for homeschool mamas. And I think your list is a WONDERFUL list of what a ANY great teacher will do—homeschool or otherwise. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a well-thought out comment. I do appreciate your input. I want to emphasize that this was not meant to put teachers down. Some of my very dearest friends were teachers (in fact, they were two of my children’s teachers), so I have the greatest respect for the teaching profession. What I was aiming for with this post was to encourage homeschooling parents. Too often we are criticized for not having teaching degrees (although some do) and are therefore, ‘incompetent’ for teaching our children. This is simply not the case and THAT is what I was trying to get across. There’s just no way around the fact that homeschooling is completely different from traditional schools, so a teaching degree is just not necessary. In fact, of the teachers and former teachers that I know who are now homeschooling, they have all said that they pretty much have to forget everything that they learned about teaching because it was actually hindering their homeschooling. They’ve said that homeschooling is an entirely different world. I hope that explains things!



    Liked by 1 person

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