My family began Classical Conversations in Challenge A. We have no Foundations or Essentials experience. One of my sweetest friends tutored Laine’s Challenge A year, and I agreed to take on the task of directing B last year.
To say I learned a lot would be an understatement… and I want to pass some of the things I’ve learned along to you! Some are more Challenge B focused, but most will apply to any classroom at any level.
A bit of background on my class: I tutored in New Jersey, where CC is less widely known than many areas of the USA, and where Challenge classes especially, can be hard to come by. I was blessed with 8 of the nicest kids I’ve ever known! Four of them were 8th graders, four of them 9th. Six had done Challenge A, and two had done no CC at all!
I’ve composed a list of the little things I wish I had done early in the year, or things I found worked really well. I’d love for you to add to this list in the comments, if you have other ideas as well!
Here we go….
- Keep your receipts. When I agreed to tutor, it was late into the summer, and it never occurred to me to keep receipts for things like supplies, curriculum and the hotel I stayed in when I had to drive to PA for practicum. Everything you buy can be written off (except for supplies purchased with the designated ‘supply fee.’ So save those receipts! Take pictures of the receipts as soon as you buy something – and then you’ll always have a copy handy.
- Have a mandatory parents meeting in the summer. Host it at your house, or somewhere where you can talk, get out books, and won’t be distracted by noise (IMO, Panera is not a suitable location for this!). Ask parents to plan to stay for the evening, and give them a solid overview of the year. Outline your initial expectations of them, because…..
- Parents are the teachers. You are the tutor. This gets very blurry, very quickly. The Challenge years seem to be where parents start to check out. But you will have to be very clear and strong with parents that you are not there to: grade work, make educational decisions for their children, adjust the workload, be responsible for what their children learn this year, whether they are successful in a subject, etc… The kids in your class are HOMEschooled. And mom and dad are still the teachers.
- On the first day of community, show up with a ton of candy. Especially if your class doesn’t know you, or each other very well. On our first day of class last year, there were so many awkward silences, and tween-ager faces staring at me blankly that I thought our year was doomed. The next week, I placed a new rule in effect. You answer or ask a question, you get a piece of candy. I didn’t do this forever, but for a few weeks I did. The kids opened right up! It’s amazing what they will do for a tootsie pop! After this, the kids were comfortable with each other, and me, and I didn’t have to trick them into speaking any longer. This was an absolute game changer for us, and truly one of the most important things I did early in the year! Just check for campus rules about food in classrooms, peanuts, and other allergies and purchase candy accordingly.
- DO NOT mark blue books. If you want to look at them and make supportive comments, go ahead. But send them home to parents for marking. They are the teachers, afterall.
- Keep it light. Don’t make your classroom too serious. Allow lots of room for laughter, silliness, music… whatever your kids are into. They might not remember their Logic lessons, or every detail about every famous scientist in history. But they will always remember how you made them feel – how it felt to be a student in your classroom. Let that truth guide the tone of your community days.
- Use the tools CC gives you! I had an awesome tutor training experience at practicum last summer. But if I have a complaint, it is the lack of hands-on, practical training. There was a ton of excellent advice on being dialectic, but little (read: no) help with specific elements of using the portal, learning pathways, forums, or how to approach actual subject matter. On the portal, there are videos! I SERIOUSLY DIDN’T KNOW THIS! There are all kinds of helpful documents. I SERIOUSLY DIDN’T KNOW THIS! Check out what’s there and register for webinars. If you can’t attend, they will be available to watch later on.
- Find a parent who wants to be a party planner. If no parent wants this job, don’t have a party. Or a field trip. Or much extra. It’s far too much to ask of you to plan all of this as well. Challenge B lends to some awesome field trip ideas: Historical sites, science centers, chemistry labs, court houses… but if not even one parent wants to organize, let it go.
- Carve out some classroom time for videos. My students enjoyed (that’s a lie, they hated them, but they learned from…) the Logic lesson videos. When I felt Mr Nance could do a better job than me, I put them on, pausing here and there to discuss and explain and work on the white board. We also watched science videos from YouTube and other web sources. I loved the videos I found on History.com! Now, I truthfully don’t know if CC would agree with me plopping kids in front of a screen during community day. But used carefully, it was valuable in my classroom!
- Splurge on Science Fair Awards. The way I see it, homeschooled kids have a lot less opportunities to win trophies and medals and all that fun stuff. I’m naturally very competitive, and as a teen, ‘winning’ was a big motivator for me. So I made awesome looking trophies for the top 3 placings based on the judges score sheets, and medals for everyone who participated. I ordered everything the day after the results were in, and they were ready in time for our next community day. All things considered, it cost less than $40 for 8 kids – not too huge of a financial commitment, and I’m happy I blew some of the budget on personalized awards. I think hard work should be rewarded.
- Commit to excellent communication with parents. Email your parents weekly. Keep them up to speed with what’s happening in your classroom. Ask them about their kids. Genuinely care for your families. It will change everything about your experience when regular communication is a normal and expected part of the relationship you have with your families.
- Watch a Mock Trial. If you can watch a CC Mock Trial in person, awesome. But if you can’t, check out the YouTube versions. I’ve heard that CC is really pushing for us not to show these videos to our students. But going in blind as the tutor is unfair to those you are trying to teach! So watch them all and then watch them again, until you feel comfortable with the whole process.
- Set a hard and fast rule about respect. Respect for you, for each other, for themselves, for the facility… Challenge B, but all the Challenge levels really, require discussion of lots of big, broad topics. We won’t all agree (trust me, I’m a socialized, practically communist according to my students, Canadian. I’ve got crazy views about health care and education – let me tell you!). There shall be no tolerance for putting down one another’s ideas, or opinions. There shall also be no tolerance for a student using a phone while in your classroom. There shall be no tolerance for students putting themselves down. There shall be no tolerance for disrespecting the facility which your community has been granted. From day one, (kindly) make your rules known and do not go back on your word. A student disrespects another, call mom to pick them up. A student is caught texting under the table, call dad to pick them up. No tolerance, people! Because I’m telling you – if you follow through even ONE time, you’ll probably never have to deal with the same issue again, for the rest of the year.