Archive for October, 2009

before the conference2

Though I sit at my desk writing this midst a fog of exhaustion and sickness, with a four year old near my feet tucked in to a sleeping bag and camping out in my room because she’s thrown up six times in the last four hours, the memory of the last week or more remains undimmed, shining bright and warm and continuing to bring a smile to my face.

I spent weeks preparing for my company. First my parents arrived, and we spent many happy days together, despite the gloomy and unpredictable October weather. My mother and my little girls and I joined my mother-in-law in a jaunt to a lovely tea room, bedecked with flowers and china and intricate lace and linens. We all went out as a large group on another day for a delicious steak dinner–one of those rare times when everyone enjoys what they ordered and the kids were moderately well-behaved. For a girl whose mother has always been her best friend, having mom around (especially when she lives so far away!) is always a treat.

On Thursday we were joined by the lovely and incandescent Sarah Clarkson. From our lively chat in the car on the way home from the airport and on through conversations over tea, working together in the kitchen whipping up goodies, playing with the children, stepping out for soup and quiche, having a “pajama party day” lounging around and watching British films, and all the way up to the moment the van door shut and Sarah waved goodbye as she wheeled her suitcase through the airport doors, I felt as though I was spending time with not just a friend, but the sister I never had. The similarities in the way we were raised, our ideals and convictions, our love of beauty and conversation and strong tea and thoughts and ideas…all converged to make our visit a joy and a delight.

On Saturday my mother and Sarah and I were off to a local women’s conference to hear Sarah’s mother, amongst others, speak and to be greatly encouraged in the Lord and in our calling as women. That’s us in the picture above, all prettied up and ready to go. Though I was already suffering from exhaustion and my mother struggles almost constantly with fatigue and illness as a juvenile diabetic, we had such a fun time!

And then there was the Sunday we spent together as the largest group I have ever entertained in my house overnight…our party of nine was joined by Sarah’s parents, Clay and Sally Clarkson, and her brother Joel. The pinnacle of our weeks of preparation, we were quickly at ease with one another and settled in to laughter and conversation over plates of delicious food and lemon water and sweet treats and coffee and tea. We had originally planned a trip to Old Sturbridge Village, but how happy we were to be ensconced in the big, warm eat-in kitchen as huge anomalous snowflakes circled down from the sky against a backdrop of flaming autumnal glory. Rarely was there just one conversation in progress, as we drifted from discussing one subject as a group to breaking off in twos and threes to talk some more…and more…and more.

We finally broke up the party and settled in to sleep. The  next morning, my parents were the first of my “full house” to pack up and drive off after a tearful goodbye, grandchildren clinging to them all the way out the door. A quick breakfast of quiche and fruit with the Clarksons before Clay and Sally rode off to get Joel to his morning class, and Sarah and I were left with the children for our final full day together. Already the cold symptoms were setting in, no doubt a result of little sleep and too much excitement (and sharing air with three thousand other women on Saturday)!  Worth every moment though, I assure you. As a family we were so blessed and encouraged and delighted.

Random thoughts to tie it all up…my husband deserves full credit for all the wonderful times that we had. While I was entertaining and preparing and fussing over details, he was helping with the children, running errands, staying home all day so I could attend the conference, cleaning, receiving text messages from me as I gave out orders from my seat at the conference, picking up Joel from the train station, sleeping in odd spots throughout the house as we shifted around to make “room for more”, wearing to work whatever strange combinations of somewhat-clean and almost-not-wrinkled clothing that I haphazardly threw at him. At all times he was pleasant, gracious, and helpful.

Something I noticed during Sally’s brief stay here…I always try to make my guests as comfortable as possible while they are with us, looking out for what they might want or have need of. It’s not a gift, nor does it come naturally, so don’t be impressed. It’s something I was trained in and have to give thought to, otherwise I would only ever think of myself, trust me. Anyway, as Sally was with us and would notice these little gestures, she would mention it and thank  me, giving a compliment or a piece of encouragement. I’m not sure I’ve ever been around someone with such a gift of encouragement who blesses others in such a specific way with such uplifting words of kindness. No wonder her children are so gracious and sweet!

And now? My house is a mess. I still have a runny nose and a headache. My husband needs me to give him a haircut tonight, I’m only halfway through all my laundry, I’m pretty sure my family is going to want to eat at least a couple times today, and I still have a little girl sprawled out on my bedroom floor.

But I am very, very happy.


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Criticism Lessons


House of Education


Practising School Report

Criticism Lessons

Juniors 1945

Sampling of notes:

“Has quietly effective manner.”

“Bright & keen, not always wise, untidy mind, acquiring dignity.”

“Quick to see her mistakes, worked hard with dulle children.”

‘Gives impression of detachment & uncertainty…must learn to get interest rather than nag and say “don’t.” ‘

“Must guard against sentiment.”

“Promising. Thinks of children not herself. Serious minded but lacks ideas.”

“Anxious to learn. Ideas good but not well sorted. Criticism welcomed.”

“Plucky, conscientous, but makes mistakes thro’ ignorance & lack of intellectual grasp.”

“Improving but stilted and too dependent on book.”

“Creates a calm & quiet atmosphere. Has authority. Teaching lacking interest due to ignorance.”

“Good common sense. Has ideas which sometimes arrive too late.”

‘Good when sure of her ground (this rarely!). Not always the “seeing eye.” ‘

“Tried, but is still not in touch with the children.”

“Imaginative & thoughtful. Begins to understand how to introduce a lesson.”

“Courageous. Tried hard. Showed initiative, but class laughed at her.”

“A bright manner.”

“Excellent. Trained in good habits.”

“Gives full thought. Knows what aiming at. Detail excellent.”

“Vague atmosphere- must be more constructive. Did not hold class.”

“Needs more orderly approach mentally & practically.”

“Did not give whole mind to work.”

“Rarely exerts herself. Not enough preparation. Improved after scolding.”


Reading through the criticism lessons was one of my favorite aspects of my morning in the archives. As I scanned over these old books, jotting down phrases that spoke to me the most, I felt at times like I was in the classroom observing these fledgling teachers, seeing the students as they responded to the lessons. Alternatively, I would envision myself back at home amidst my own “pupils”…and I was at times pained to compare my own teaching methods with the suggestions I found in the pages before me.

I developed in a very short time an overall sense of what was expected of a teacher being trained at the House of Education. She must be thoroughly prepared for a lesson, having a full and detailed grasp of the material, yet she must present the lesson in a gentle yet firm way that sparks the children’s interest without giving them the upper hand. She had to engage them, help them, encourage them, and direct them, without being overbearing and without giving them too much to do. She was expected to be tidy, disciplined, organized, and serious without being rigid or dull. Personal intellectual growth and attention to good habits was to characterize her outside the classroom. Talking too much and silliness were frowned upon.

Thinking about how I approach lessons with my own children, I drew some encouragement but I also felt deeply reproached, thinking of how my own evaluation might read. My tendency towards laziness and lack of preparation would certainly be noticed. Disorganization, failure to be imaginative and engaging, and inability to discipline my “class” would also be among the comments, I’m sure.

However, not only did I leave that day with my mind full of new ideas on how to approach teaching within my home, I was also mildly encouraged as I thought of the few areas in which we already excel. The atmosphere of our home, most of the time anyway, is pleasant and fosters learning and discovery. We curl up together on our big couch and read interesting books, and all the children, though still quite young, have had their favorites and have gotten caught up in a story and have begged for more. They love to run to the globe and find the places that we’ve talked about. They will sometimes draw pictures or act out a story with dress-up clothes and toys for props. They run for their nature note books when they see a bird or an insect or a plant that interests them.

Now several weeks removed from that day spent in that dusty library, I am even more thankful for the time granted me to peruse the boxes of books and photos and letters and notes. I uncovered many a treasure amongst them, and though my hand cramped up from all the writing down of all the little jewels I wished to take away with me, I can look over them now and remember and enjoy the bits and pieces that I recorded of a lifestyle of learning, a most remarkable set of people engaged in a unique venture, preparing educators for something new and different, something that continues to have an impact on teachers and home educators throughout the world.

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