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Teacher Service Day: How I Do It the Homeschool Way! - by Mary Ellen Barrett

Teacher Service Day: How I Do It the Homeschool Way!


Mary Ellen Barrett started practicing ‘Teacher Service Day’ for homeschool moms. It’s a 4-step, all-day-Friday process that refreshes home and homeschool.

Here in New York I will, on occasion, look out the window and see a few children out and about on a regular school day. While it would be nice to think there were suddenly a lot more homeschoolers in my area, the explanation is usually a teacher service day.

The public schools give teachers one day a semester to “catch up” on their paperwork, work on their lesson plans, and straighten up their rooms. Now this is an institutional school idea which I can get behind.

1. Organization & Sanity

I started teacher service days in my homeschool about two years ago, and I can’t tell you how much they have contributed to the efficiency and general organization of things as well as greatly helping my level of sanity. That is probably the most important benefit.

I always make sure that my teacher service day is a Friday because, well, why not? The kids are totally on board because it is a lesson-free day; however, it’s not a work-free day for them. We work together both to put the house in order and to put their school lives in order.

This day serves to calm my mind when I begin feeling overwhelmed by how much we are doing or the worry that we are not doing enough. I set aside a few hours with each child to check and update the lesson plans, review anything I’ve been remiss in going over, and mostly to spend a bit of time with each of them focusing on their needs, their strengths, and their weaknesses.

I find this kind of one on one time to just focus on schoolwork extremely valuable. It’s where I pick up the pieces of the puzzle and try to fit them in the correct places so I can better teach and serve these wonderful souls entrusted to me by God. It’s an opportunity to find out why they like or dislike a particular book or field of study. If it’s the latter, we can discuss the legitimacy of these feelings and perhaps adjust the plan to better reflect the needs, workload, and personality of my student.

2. A Little Notice Will Help A Lot

I try to give a few days’ notice for an approaching teacher service day. This gives those who might be a bit behind some time to catch up or at least prepare their case. I never want these times to be adversarial but it is a fact of life that there sometimes is a road to reality to be traveled during these meetings; the reality being my and God’s expectations for my child and this can be a little emotional.

I try very hard to approach these times with love and patience. Sometimes it’s difficult because patience is not in my nature, but I’m working on it.

When I declare the day, again, always a Friday, I get everyone up at their regular time and we have breakfast, do morning chores, and say prayers as a family. Then I instruct one of the children to bring me their school box (a plastic crate containing their text books, workbooks and notebooks) and their lesson plan books. I use the ones provided by Seton (available here) and fill them out for each child over our summer break.

By the way, since the planner books all have the same cover and my young ones are all close in age, including twins, I put a different sticker on the front of each planner to easily distinguish one from another.

If I just open it and look, sometimes it’s hard to tell right off the bat. Little things like this make me feel like an organizing genius. Which I am not.

3. Keep Everyone Busy

The children are each given a pretty hefty chore to accomplish for the day. All of their rooms must be thoroughly cleaned, and in addition, each capable child will get a closet to clean, a bookcase to organize, or a big yard chore as well as a room to tidy. This keeps everyone pretty busy while I meet with them one at a time.

During these meetings, I go through each book for each child with the planner open in front of me. I see where they are, make sure it’s where I think they are, mark up any work that I’ve fallen behind on, and review what’s to come next.

When there are six being schooled and there are only so many hours in the day, I have come to the realization that sometimes I drop the ball. These days help me pick it back up. While going through the books, we discuss what they are studying and what they are getting out of it.

Sometimes I will investigate some extra reading for a subject they are enjoying or maybe assign an art project or ask an older one to teach a younger one something. If there are explanations to be made, I hear them. Very often there are reasonable reasons for being a bit behind and we work on a plan for catching up that does not create more stress.

Sometimes some character flaws need to be handled and virtues developed and I can assign work or extra chores that will help with those deficiencies. I always ask that they bring these things to prayer as well.

4. The Rewards

I go through this with each child throughout the day and when their turn is over they go on to their chores which are checked upon by me when they are complete. Only after your chores are complete to my satisfaction and your planner and books synchronized and neatly put away, may there be recreation.

These days provide a nice little break in the action mid-semester, allowing us to connect meaningfully and keeping any little slides from turning into downfalls. It provides a mental break for the kids, relieves their minds about where they are at, and often relieves my mind that we are not completely hopeless as homeschoolers.

The housework gets a big boost, and we start the weekend refreshed and ready to enjoy.

I rarely agree with public school ideology, but I think teacher service days are a concept we homeschool moms can make our own. If you are lucky, maybe the principal will even take you out for dinner!

About Mary Ellen Barrett

Mother of seven children and two in heaven, Mary is wife to David and a lifelong New Yorker. She has homeschooled her children for eleven years using Seton and an enormous amount of books. She is a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and blogs here . Meet Mary Ellen.
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