I knew it was coming, because they asked me last year and I told them then that, sorry, it sounded fun but the notice was too short, and anyway I had a new baby. Maybe next year, I said. And then next year turned into this year, and they called again.
Nothing big, a small thing, really: an idea that attracted me, though. A homeschooling co-op had started up in one of the outlying suburbs. They wanted someone to facilitate high school general chemistry, in 90 minute sessions, once a week, on Tuesdays. One of the other parents must have known of my background and suggested my name.
It was a paid position -- I don't know exactly how much it would have been, because it depended on the number of students who signed up: the fees came directly from each student to the tutor ("not 'teacher,'" it was explained to me; I get it, the idea is that the students do most of their learning independently, and then meet once a week for feedback or discussion or something like that.) On the order of a couple of hundred dollars per student for a semester. There was a science lab space available, apparently, which is more than I have at home. I would be free to choose the curriculum, even design my own, as long as it helped the students acquire the equivalent of a high school chemistry credit.
I have a high school student of my own who plans to study chemistry next year, so that was another point in in its favor -- some of the work of curriculum preparation, I would be doing anyway. The money made the offer attractive not so much for its buying power, but that it turned the gig into an actual -- you know -- job, relying on some of my professional knowledge and experience as well as some of the skills I have enjoyed developing behind the scenes, so to speak, over the past ten years.
I had a lot to think about, so I started researching available high school chemistry curricula and lab kits, and also musing about exactly why the offer attracted me.
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I have zero regrets about walking away from the paid workplace in order to concentrate my efforts on running a family and educating our children. Sometimes, however, I consider a hypothetical future in which I decide I would like to return to it, and I wonder what I might put in motion now in order to help that happen more smoothly.
The missing piece, at least in a tight job market, is really experience that has measurable accountability.
I measure much of my own work against more-or-less objective criteria, of course. Over the years I have grown more and more efficient at setting out a syllabus for the year and more and more disciplined at following it, while also figuring out how to adapt it to make room for interruptions. I have learned what to look for in a textbook, and how to work with what I have available when the only texts are flawed. I have taught myself in a few weeks a years' worth of an unfamiliar technical subject, in enough depth to write a week-by-week guide for a student to work through it on his own. To different extents, I have taught myself three languages. I have spent many hours of trial and error figuring out how to present material to young people who learn in a style vastly different from mine, and to measure the learning of young people who express their acquired skills in ways vastly different from my expectations. I have learned how to give a mathematics lecture on the fly with a quick glance at the book -- let's see, what are we supposed to do today? Oh, that. Well, here we go. I have developed my patience and my flexibility. I know that all this is happening, because every year it gets easier and runs more smoothly, at the same time as it seems I should have more and more tasks to do in less time. This basic sense of growing competence -- at least in the parts where I organize time and environment, write curriculum, and teach willing students -- means that every year I enjoy my work more.
But none of this belongs on a résumé.
Do not bristle about this showing that the work of parents in the home is not valued. The difficulty is that work of parents in the home is not measurable. Home educating develops skills that may be measured; but it doesn't, itself, measure them.
This is inherent to its genius. There is wonderful freedom in home education, which is one of the things that makes the work so satisfying to me. I have no supervisor, and rely on my innate desire to see the children succeed -- plus my desire for order and peace in our home -- plus my own pleasure at digging deeply into a subject -- to motivate me to excel. I know from talking to numerous other home educators that this same freedom can, to others, be intimidating, which is one reason why there is such a big market for school-in-a-box curricula. "I want accountability," they tell me. Whether one wants it or not is a matter of self-confidence and working style; it's absolutely true that, in homeschooling, freedom is free and accountability is something you have to pay for if you want it.
Not being accountable to anyone who is paying us -- trading economic value for economic value -- means that we can't verify these particular skills and strengths for the purpose of selling them. We cannot demonstrate having had to perform to external standards, because the standards we keep are not external. There are no professional references that may be checked to confirm our fitness as an employee. It is a bit like being self-employed, except that even the self-employed can point to the successes and struggles of a small business in a market of other people and the constraints of budgets and regulations, all of which are external and, in principle, verifiable.
This is not something to take personally. It's not about whether parents' work in the home is valuable; it's about whether parents' work in the home is ever capable of demonstrating to a particular potential employer that the candidate in question has something of value in the immediate future to offer to that employer. You have to own the fact that it usually cannot. You have to be satisfied with internal accountability, because there is no other kind. I cringe when I read nonsense like "I'm employed as a Domestic Engineer" or (what is infinitely worse) listing children or spouses as the "employer" on a FB or LinkedIn profile. Even as a joke, this cheapens us all.
+ + +
So I thought seriously about the challenge of having accountability -- with cash on the line -- to other people for a change. I bet I would enjoy it for its own sake, and then, I imagined it could come in handy later; a thing that produces references, and a line on a hypothetical future résumé, a line that combines the professional interests I used to enjoy with the practical skills I have developed doing my, shall we say, undocumented work.
In the end, the attraction to hypothetical future benefits was not enough to overcome the immediate costs. I would have had to drive forty minutes each way; and the subjects that my younger kids could be doing at the same time were not ones I really wanted to outsource; and this particular co-op, it turned out, didn't offer any onsite activities for preschooler siblings. If I weren't already co-schooling two days a week with H, taking one day a week for a co-op day might fill a social void without cutting too much into our schedule. But -- I am, and those co-schooling days are far more valuable to me.
This year things are running more smoothly than ever, and -- when you get right down to it -- adding accountability might strengthen my résumé, but it would weaken my real, day-to-day performance at my primary responsibility. The ultimate end of all work (including work done for personal development and enjoyment) is the support of the family; judged by that standard, this particular work at this particular time would only undermine mine.
Some other year.