Serving Your Students

Today I want to draw a comparison between business and homeschooling, with a focus on service.

Let’s pretend a company, “A-Z Widgetmaker,” is going to fire a lowly, underperforming salesperson. Sales girl, Jan, just isn’t the right fit for the company. She recites the script during her presentations, but hasn’t had a good day of sales in months. The leadership is going to give her a week off to think about whether she is going to try to refocus and come back, trying harder than ever to succeed. But everyone knows this week is really for her to go get interviews elsewhere because she doesn’t have what it takes to sell A-Z’s widgets.

A new Jan happens every month or two. Jan is not an anomaly, in fact, the company is built for new people to either work their way up or eventually just leave. The pay for Jan is so low, no one can stay there for long. Management understands and accepts this process. They fire Jans all the time for not hitting sales numbers because Jans don’t make them the real money. Jans barely help the company’s bottom-line and management just doesn’t have time to waste on unsuccessful salespeople. Jans are just a means to an end; the company uses them to produce sales for a short time until they peter-out and leave.

Most homeschooling parents aren’t like A-Z’s leadership, treating Jan like a cog in a machine instead of a person. But in some ways, it’s tempting to fall into the same pattern with our curricula. It’s awfully tempting during a hard day of wrangling multiple kids and multiple assignments and projects, to just bark at our kids, “Just finish that worksheet!” “Write your narration!”  “No, I can’t help you now, do you not see me chasing the toddler who thinks she doesn’t need clothes?”

And then parents get frustrated with their kid who is suddenly crying on her math papers.

Both the manager and the homeschooling parent face the same temptation: to treat others as their servants, when the best solution is for the manager and parent to become the servant.

Here’s the question both the leadership in our fake company and homeschooling parents should ask: “How can I serve this person best?”

The boss at A-Z Widgetmaker should certainly be concerned with his bottom line, just as homeschooling parents should be concerned with academic progress, but both of those things will happen much more easily and with much more peace and joy if the boss and the parent take the role of servant instead of the role of dictator.

Service in the workplace means that if someone isn’t right for a sales job, it’s the boss’ duty to either help them get better, or let them know they’re not right for the job soon enough for them to find something else–not use poor saleslady Jan for as long as Jan will stick it out, before she gives up because she’s not making enough money to live on.

Service in the homeschool means that when a student struggles or there is major strife in the homeschool, the parent has the duty to stop being a slave to the curriculum. Who cares if you have to do shorter, more frequent lessons, stretching your school week out to include Saturdays? Who cares if you only finish 3/4 of your history text this year? If these changes mean your daughter doesn’t cry over 90-minute math lessons anymore, she’s definitely learning more math. If you spend more time going more in-depth on history, doing more projects than you’d like, but your kid loves it, isn’t that what it’s all about?

This kind of flexibility is what makes homeschooling so remarkable. We have the opportunity to treat our kids like people, not cogs in a machine, who complete exactly one level of math per 180-day school year. (Whatever “complete” really means.  How much math did he really learn?)

Part of moving off of the conveyor belt of public education is changing the questions we ask and the way we think.

Look your student in the eyes. What does he need most? How can you serve her best?

Instead of asking, “What will it take to finish this lesson in the allotted amount of time?” ask “Where is he getting stuck?  How can I help him figure out this concept?  Is the curriculum helping or hurting here?  Is there a better way to reach my student?”

Our children will learn more and grow better if we treat them like people, not malfunctioning machinery. I think if we do this well, they’re more likely to be servant-leaders, better equipped to deal humanely with their own Jans in their own widget companies someday.

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