Friday, November 30, 2012

Teaching My Own: Christine Mitchell

So yesterday, I was chatting with my friend, Christine, about the idea of homeschooling her three young children, and she made this innocent comment:

...sometime you'll have to tell us all about how the hubby feels/felt about homeschooling, because mine would...yeah. :D

She brings up a good point. It's one thing if your grandmother or neighbor or dentist office receptionist thinks you're a nut job for homeschooling your kids. But what if your husband does not share your passion for teaching your own?

That's an interesting question, and I'll respond to it in my next post, but first I want to tell you about the wild irony that surrounds this situation:

Christine is one of the best things that ever happened to my daughters and me in our homeschooling lives.

* * * * * 

Let's flash back about ten years to the day my girls enrolled in a special school-for-homeschoolers.

{Don't worry - I'll explain that contradiction later in this series on Teaching My Own.}

On our first day at this resource center, we wandered down a hallway full of classrooms and lab spaces until we stopped at the open doorway with a sign that read, "Interactive Project Collaborative." Inside, we found about twenty kids and a handful of parents, busily and happily playing open-ended games on computers, taking photos for stop-motion movies, working in journals, and making cool stuff with a variety of building sets. My eyes moved over this amazing mass of interested, occupied, incredibly self-directed learners, in search of a teacher. Eventually, I discovered a young woman, sitting at a desk in the far corner of the room, chatting with two kids while putting the finishing touches on a giant LEGO model of a diamond engagement ring.

And that is how I met Christine Mitchell.

Over the next few years, Christine earned her place on the Streicher Short-List of Most Influential and Inspirational Adults in Our Homeschooling Journey. Here's why:

Her personality is easy-going and approachable; kids are naturally drawn to her. On the shy side, but filled up to the brim with spunk, Christine has the ability to tame wild-and-woolly fifth grade boys, while also making the most tender-hearted kindergartner feel safe. My gentle little fourth-born is proof of the latter - in traditional classrooms, this delicate flower wilted under strict regimes and more assertive classmates. But under Christine's care, she bloomed.

Because of her own quirky creative energies and anything-goes artistic flair, kids feel free to experiment with their own imaginations. You want to make a collage out of plastic baby doll arms, create a printed fabric featuring dentures, or build a robot that can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Not only will Christine support your vision, she's probably already done it herself.

Even in a free-wheeling, anything-goes environment, she knows how to set up systems that encourage kids to do the right thing. Using badges to manage crowd control in her highly visited lab, apprentice programs to encourage bigger kids to look out for younger users, and teen internships to give older kids a chance to lead, Christine found ways to gain cooperation and spread enthusiasm for her increasingly popular workspace.

Despite her own tender age and lack of experience as an educator at the time, Christine instinctively understood child-led, experimental, experience-based learning. We all called her a teacher, but Christine's leadership was much more about creating an interesting physical space and an inviting social environment, and then getting out of the way to let kids work.

* * * * *

It goes without saying that Christine's influence left its mark on all four of my daughters. But her guidance had special consequences for two of my kids:

Christine noticed and nurtured my second-born's passion for visual art, for color, for drawing and painting. By the time she was twelve, my daughter began to dream of attending the University of Washington to study art, just like Christine had done. And you know what? My daughter made that dream came true. Many other people supported her in the long journey toward the UW and her art degree, but Christine was the first.

Under Christine's leadership, the IPC lab was a place where girls and boys could engage together in tech-ish ways. My youngest daughter grew up playing with boys in the lab every day, beating them at computer games and building LEGO creations that made them drop their jaws in amazement. She has gone on to pursue her dreams in the world of math and science, and I give Christine a lot of the credit for my fourth-born's determination to not only succeed in male-dominated studies, but to beat them soundly at their own game.

* * * * *

So it is with considerable irony and nostalgia that I am now having conversations with Christine about homeschooling. The great wheel of life has turned, and she is now the full-time mommy with her own little mob of school-age youngsters, considering the best ways to unlock their potential and make their dreams come true.

And tomorrow I will tackle her important question about daddies and homeschooling. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment...I'd love to hear from you!