Are you afraid of homeschooling because you know you’re not as smart or prepared as the teacher-down-the-road?

We homeschooling moms can be an easy marketing target. Day schools promise so much more than we could ever hope to provide. They seem to run without a hitch and make us doubt that what we are doing at home can begin to compare.

Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes classical day schools are a good choice.

But sometimes it’s just marketing propaganda.

What Is a Teacher?

One advantage schools often claim to have over homeschooling is their efficiency. One teacher teaching 20 kids is better than one teaching 2 or 3 or 5, right? One teacher can master one subject and the students can be herded from classroom to classroom, receiving instruction from specialists in a controlled environment. It is an efficient use of resources, to be sure.

But efficiency is not all that matters.

The dictionary defines the verb teaching as

  1. To show or explain to (someone) how to do something
  2. To give information about or instruction in (a subject or skill)
  3. To give such instruction professionally

It comes from the Old English word meaning to ‘show, present, point out.’

A teacher shows, tells, explains – makes plain and clear the subject matter.

One of my favorite books on teaching is the classic by Gilbert Highet: The Art of Teaching. Writing in the 50’s, he never says anything about homeschooling or other alternative methods of education, but he does comment on the different modes of teaching:

It is far easier to give two one hour lectures to classes of fifty or sixty than to tutor one or two pupils for two hours, questioning, objecting, remembering, following up, arguing, defending yourself, and counter attacking and always moving toward a definite end which must not be hurried or overemphasized. And after giving two such tutorials, you are exhausted.

As homeschooling families, we have the opportunity to take advantage of the best model, which the logistics of the classroom forbid: tutoring. Remembering, following up, questioning one or two students at a time, taking those individuals toward a definite end without hurrying them or overemphasizing the point. And do you see that last sentence? It’s exhausting work, but effective work.

What is tutoring?

The dictionary defines tutoring as to “act as a private teacher to (a single student or a very small group).”

The word comes to us from Latin tueri ‘to watch, guard.’

The contemporary classroom teacher, then, is a master of the material, showing it and attempting to make it comprehensible to their class. A tutor, however, is a watcher, a guarder of the way, shepherding the student along a chosen path – watching the student more than the material, bringing in the helps and materials needed to keep momentum, while traveling alongside.

There is nothing wrong with teaching, but the schools are right: teaching is not homeschooling’s strength. Homeschooling’s strength is in the depth of relationship and the insightfulness of personal guidance.

Tutoring is not making everything completely personalized and individualized for each student, as if history and tradition and logic had no bearing on what is studied and when. Instead, as tutors, we have the opportunity to meet the child where he’s at rather than where generic standards say he should be. The only way he’s actually going to climb that rock wall is if he takes the next step right above him – shouting and pointing at the very top rock or painstakingly demonstrating how to properly climb the rocks below him is not actually helpful.

Instead of being teachers focused on communicating specific material over the course of a year, we are tutors, coaches, mentors, disciplers. We will have better success if we see our mission not as trying to get through curriculum or achieve certain test scores but as guiding the beginning of a human being’s journey on the path of virtue. The path itself  is as old as the world – not individualized – but the coaching and mentoring done to keep the child on the path and to show him how to travel it successfully is individualized and primarily relational.

As mother-tutors, we have a small flock that we shepherd in the way they should go. We need to nurture and strengthen our relationships with our children, because that is where our advantage and our true calling lies. Our job is to bring in what life-giving nutrition each requires to grow and develop, but we don’t have to be the producers or pre-digesters of that feed. Our role is to watch, guard, tend, prod, and guide. Our role is consume life-giving soul- & mind-food ourselves so we can model, lead, and keep up. Shepherds know their flocks – the weaknesses, strengths, temptations, and tendencies – and they watch the backs of those under their care.

Homeschool mama, you don’t need to be an expert, a specialist, or a professor. You need to be a watcher, a learner, a coach, intent upon your children’s needs and modeling the more excellent way for them.

It’s not actually easier, but it is fulfilling and oh so worth it.


  1. YES!! When I do allow myself to engage in a true discussion about the value of homeschooling one of my main points is the value of a one-on-one tutoring session as an optimal method of learning.

    I also loved this quote:
    “There is nothing wrong with teaching, but the schools are right: teaching is not homeschooling’s strength. Homeschooling’s strength is in the depth of relationship and the insightfulness of personal guidance.”

    Amen. Thanks for the wonderful insights, Mystie.

    1. I loved that quote too. I have pondered, many times, the difference between what I do and what a brick-and-mortar teacher does. My role is to tutor each individual in a meaningful way. It is also to honor them, where they are at, and help them grow. I know that my value as a tutor is great. I know that what I provide is much more than instruction.

      Our mother-tutor vocation gets to the heart of education and the depth of learning. Those of us who home-educate are so blessed. Not everyday is rainbows and butterflies, but on those days that educating really seems like “work” we should reflect on the journey. The journey is what matters. The journey is beautiful.

      1. Yes, the journey can be rough going some days, but that’s an essential part of it. They and we need to learn how to handle those days with grace and perseverance, and where better to learn it?

  2. This post was beautiful and perfect for me today! I have often felt like my role is to watch and guard and shepherd my girls along, but you explained it better than I have been able to.

    Thank you for all you do at Schole Sisters, ladies. Tuesday and Friday mornings are my favorite mornings of the week. Blessings!

  3. Yes, I love this! I’ve never thought about the difference between teachers and tutors before – but you did an excellent job of summing it up. And it also explains why us homeschool moms can be so tired after tutoring our children throughout the day.

    I’ve also heard it said that we should be discipling our children rather than just teaching them and I liked that as well. Loved it when you said, “We will have better success if we see our mission not as trying to get through curriculum or achieve certain test scores but as guiding the beginning of a human being’s journey on the path of virtue. ” I totally agree! Thanks for sharing this. :)

  4. Yes. This is one of the major reasons I went forward with homeschooling. Tutoring, in my view, is the best way to learn for most people. I am actually a teacher. I’ve taught high school and college, and I can say for sure, that tutoring my students, being tutored myself in graduate school, and tutoring my son in our homeschool, have been far more effective than most classroom teaching I’ve experienced. I’ve had some great classes, and I’ve also taught some classes that went very well, but I don’t think it’s possible to make the progress or go into the depth that can be done in a tutoring situation. It was because of a “special studies” course I took at the end of my master’s program, that I became a big fan of one-on-one teaching/tutoring. I learned so much and felt so much more fulfilled as a student after that class. My professor just met me once a week at the school cafe over coffee, and we talked about philosophy and literary theory that I had read over the week. It was actually the best learning experience of my life, and I have always felt grateful to him for taking the time to do that. I see with my son, too, that he can grow and learn in a much richer way than he would do, I believe, in a traditional classroom. I’m sure one could learn there too, but I think what’s lost in a classroom is the likelihood of learning in depth and the sweetness of learning in a peaceful home amongst the people one loves.

    1. What a great experience and a great perspective. Thanks for sharing.

      So maybe meeting a high schooler for conversation after a week of reading and studying wouldn’t be too bad. I’m tentatively looking toward what those older grades will look like in our home when there are little ones around as well.

      1. Mystie, that’s actually what my high schooler and I have been doing. Since he is pretty much on his own (very motivated child) we have a meeting at the end of every week where he tells me about his readings, assignments, struggles, etc. Sure, I sit by him at the table while he does his school and he will ask me questions from time to time, but our main conversation comes at the end of the week.

  5. I so needed to read this today. Intensive one on one tutoring with a child/man with poor language skills is just so exhausting sometimes! Like today! Thanks for reminding me that it’s the better choice! :)

  6. I love this! I have never felt comfortable saying that I am a “teacher”. But a tutor (or even mentor or educator) seems a much better title.

    I’ve never been sure what to say when I run into a “proper” school teacher. I had one unpleasant experience where I was subtly put in my place when I stated I was a teacher. It had to do with obtaining a teacher discount card while other “school teachers” were present. I didn’t know what else to say other than my job was to home SCHOOL my children and I needed to buy supplies for them for SCHOOL.

    Barnes & Noble offers an Educator Discount card (awesome!) and the name seems to fit the bill nicely. :)

  7. Thank you! Needed to hear this again…. you put it so well, I will bookmark this page and likely end up sending the link to many!

    This has been my soapbox speech for the 20+years I have been home-educating: I tutor, one-on-one… the best available educational model, the choice of kings and nobles for millennia. And no one has as vested an interest in my children’s hearts as I do, save the Lord Himself.

    Thank you for reminding me to keep learning and feeding on the soul and mind food that make me a better tutor and better Christian.

  8. You explained perfectly how I feel about our home school experience. A teacher/new neighbor recently asked me if I had had any training as a teacher. I responded, “I see myself more as a tutor.”

    Such wisdom and positive reflection. Thanks for adding depth to my understanding.

  9. While I like & agree with your discussion of homeschooling as much more than just a typical teacher-student relationship, I disagree with the broad opening title that we are not teachers. ALL mothers are teachers, for ill & good, and homeschool mothers are teachers as well…we are imparting knowledge every day in a multitude of ways. Perhaps I dislike the tone of this post because I was a teacher before homeschooling, but we do a disservice to the ideal of teaching by shunning it. Plato, Jesus, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Edith Stein, Caroline Ingalls were all teachers…they were also mentors, tutors, coaches, etc. It is a noble path we are on, diverse and rich and challenging, but I feel we’re ignoring a key component if we claim we are not teachers as well.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Kim. You’re right, if by ‘teach,’ we’re simply talking about instructing and sharing knowledge, then all parents teach by the nature of the relationship. However, if we can use different words to draw on different connotations, then ‘teach’ wouldn’t be the closest word to that sort of instruction, modeling, tutoring, or discipling would get to the heart of what’s happening in those exchanges. If we can use these words to show specific differences of approach rather than lumping them together as synonyms, then teaching would mean putting yourself up front or above and expounding on a subject from your own knowledge and fullness. Mothers and mentors do that sometimes, but it is not primarily their function. Jesus did both: He expounded from His own mastery to the crowds and He taught His disciples relationally as they walked along the way.

      I think we should play to our strengths and focus on building that relational instruction rather than fretting over the fact that we cannot teach from mastery every subject in every grade, though we will be leading our children through every subject in every grade if we stick it out. We can do that because we can be the tutor-guide, not necessarily the teacher, the source.

  10. Great post! This is the type of encouragement that parents need to give them the courage to be the first teachers in their children’s lives. So many kernels of wisdom here. Thank you.

  11. I love this post. I wish I would have read it immediately on Tuesday when it showed up in my inbox instead today.

    I often thinking about how I am more exhausted teaching two than my husband was teaching whole classes. I think I need to print this out and put it in the front of my planning notebook.

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