Teaching in a Charlotte Mason Co-op

Today, we’re sharing some tips on teaching in a Charlotte Mason Co-op. With the new school year gearing up, some of you are probably thinking about teaching in Charlotte Mason co-ops, and today we wanted to share some tips for you. Joining me is Laura Pitney, who’s been running a Charlotte Mason co-op and dealing with teacher-parents for many years now. How is teaching in a co-op similar or different from teaching your own kids at home?

Laura: Well, it definitely has some differences. When you think about teaching in your home, you have your routines, you have your plan, but also you have distractions. You have kids who may be in different moods, you may be in a different mood. There are a lot of variables to that.

Sonya: Laundry going, the dryer. You might have your preschooler running around.

Laura: And you, as the teacher, are responsible to teach all the subjects, whether you really like them or not, that’s your responsibility as the teacher. So by default, you’re head over all of it. You’re working through all the subjects, with all the ages, with all the attitudes. There’s a lot that happens in your home when you’re homeschooling. So that’s not necessarily how it looks like in a co-op setting. It can, depending on the atmosphere of that co-op, but one of the differences would be that you might have the option to choose which class you want to teach. You’re not by default having to teach all the classes. So you can sign up to teach one you’re really passionate about and you like or you may want to say, “You know what, I want to be an assistant to this class so I can learn more about it or learn how to do a Charlotte Mason method for that subject.” So there’s some flexibility with what you have to do in your home versus the options you have in the co-op. And so that affects you and your attitude towards the co-op because if “I have options, I’m probably going to pick the one I like, or maybe I have a strength in or a talent in,” and that looks different because you can’t do that at home.

Sonya: I suppose you can also choose what age levels. Depending on how big the co-op is, if they’re divided by age levels.

Laura: Right. Sometimes you have teachers who want to also teach their children in the co-op, just so they can still have their eyes on their kids and make sure they know what their kids are being taught. That’s natural, but then you have moms who say, “I’ll do any age, except the ones my kids are in.” They might need a break and maybe they have a home of all littles and they want to volunteer to teach a high school class because they’re hungry for those conversations. So even the ages can help inspire you and be more motivated and get refreshed. Or maybe you want to do littles because you love the littles, but you only have high schoolers at home. So even the age groups can feed into you in a good way, based on what you sign up for.

Sonya: Now, I want to revisit something you said about being an assistant, signing up as an assistant. Talk a little more about that. Do you always have assistants for your teachers? Or how does that work?

Laura: Well, that’s one thing I have learned over the years is having that assistant helps the teacher. There are some different things, like the assistant can be the automatic substitute if the teacher isn’t there. So for the teacher, if she does need to take a sick day or there’s just something’s going on and she can’t make it, it’s comforting to her knowing she has an assistant who will fill the shoes and she doesn’t have to feel guilty about messing up the whole co-op day for the other families.

Sonya: And that substitute is already familiar with the class. She’s been in there the whole time.

Laura: Right, and depending on the age group, you may have a room full of 12-year-old boys and you just need an extra set of eyes to help encourage them to make good behavioral decisions. So having an assistant also helps with logistics and distractions. I usually always pair somebody who’s new to the co-op and also new to Charlotte Mason methods and philosophies with an experienced teacher so she can learn how to teach the class or maybe even how to improve wording on how to ask for narrations. Or maybe you have a really timid mom you can see potential in. By helping her, asking her to be an assistant, can even help build her confidence to where she can see the role of the teacher so she could one day be a head teacher versus an assistant. It’s encouraging that mom who may not be a dominant teacher. It’s helping in that aspect of it too. I’ve learned that having those assistants is really valuable to help the co-op keep going and not have huge hiccups to where, if the teacher’s not there, then the class can’t happen or it falls on the director to fill in when the director may have other responsibilities. So that assistant role has been really beneficial.

Sonya: I really like the idea of using that position to train new teachers. It’s like you’re constantly mentoring. Another thing I think is similar, but might be a little different in teaching at home versus teaching in a co-op is planning. Yes, you have to have plans for both. How is it similar or different?

Laura: Well, at home, we usually start out with our big picture for the year and then we usually break it down to maybe monthly and weekly and daily; we have our general plan and then we have our resources. But many times when you get in the groove of things, you may not always prepare like you should, because you’re in your routine, which is fine. Usually your day goes fine without giving 100 percent to that preparation time. But in a co-op, you really do have to not only have the plan, but also commit yourself to that preparation where you really are giving the class the best of you and the best of the lesson. So there’s value in knowing that you do have your plan and you do need to prepare, but when it’s transferred over to the co-op, there’s more accountability and expectation because you’re the teacher of other people’s children.

In a co-op, you really do have to not only have the plan, but also commit yourself to that preparation where you really are giving the class the best of you and the best of the lesson. So there’s value in knowing that you do have your plan and you do need to prepare, but when it’s transferred over to the co-op, there’s more accountability and expectation because you’re the teacher of other people’s children.

Sonya: So it’s harder to wing it.

Laura: Correct. And one thing that I have found helpful is having good resources that plan for me, and even give me what I need to prepare for, like a heads up to get these materials or these supplies, or remind parents about this or that. So even just choosing the right resource to use in the co-op setting helps save my time and doesn’t take away the time I give to my family, if that makes sense.

Sonya: Yes, absolutely. Time is one of the most valuable things a homeschool mom has. So, if you can get something that someone else has invested that time in for planning and preparing, then all you need to do is run the program and read through it, make sure you’re familiar with it.

Laura: But you’re not having to spend the hours of research.

Sonya: Putting it together yourself.

Laura: Adapting it, yeah. For sure.

Sonya: I’m very excited about the new line of Charlotte Mason Together lesson plans and courses that are now available.

Laura: They’re super helpful. I love how there’s flexibility within them because a lot of co-ops look different. Sometimes, you may be a monthly co-op or sometimes you may be a weekly co-op, just depending on the type of group that you are. Having the CMT groups lesson plans have been so beneficial for us because we can take those and apply it just like they’re written like the 12-week term, or we may take one of the lesson plans and say, “Okay, this is really good, but we may want to just do that once a month, but it’s still all laid out for us.” A big thing to remember is the flexibility within the groups but to have that spine of the resources, that’s your foundation, your plans. The more you are prepared and can use the lesson plans, like the CMT group lesson plans, you’re really setting yourself up for success and the group up for success. It has been a load off my shoulders because it’s there. And I can say, “Okay, you as the teacher, this is what you need to do.” I can trust the resource to where I’m not having to pour an over-amount of time in trying to train the teacher, if that makes sense, because it’s already scripted and written out. It’s been a huge time saver and a trusted thing I know I can fall back on.

Sonya: I love how those are available individually. You can pick and choose whatever you want to use. But also you can get a whole bundle of season one and it has the schedule for your co-op. It has all the lesson plans. Everything’s just laid out all together in one place.

Laura: It’s beautiful. I know from experience over the years, the time that I have put into, and I know other directors have too, the time put into helping teachers, because those are the faces in front of your children and that their words and their mindset are helping them succeed. Because if it’s a burden for them to have to come up with the lesson plans or the resources or the schedule, I mean, you don’t want to deflate them, and them not want to teach. You want to keep them around.

Sonya: Yes, that’s a good point.

Laura: I have thoroughly enjoyed having them and it’s made our days run smoother and it’s helped alleviate a lot of questions and we’ve loved using them.

Sonya: It sounds like your desire is to help your teachers continue to grow as persons and to keep developing. Talk a little bit about that.

Laura: Well, as homeschoolers, we love our children. We want to invest in them. We’re obviously teaching them. And then when we jump over to the co-op setting, it’s almost like a different part of us is being used, even though we’re still teaching, because it’s not our own children. There’s a little bit more fire behind us, like we’re a little more motivated just because it’s new and fresh. But again, it’s helping set those teachers up for success and giving them the confidence to pour back into all of our children. That’s what I love to see happen. And as the director, watching that happen is a beautiful thing. I see that teacher transition from the head knowledge to the heart and the knowledge working together and going back into the children and that’s what you want. I know we want that heart desire to be poured into our children. So it’s really neat to see when that happens in a co-op.

Sonya: Thanks.