We are all teachers. Which is why we don’t need teachers.

So many posts on this blog deconstruct the idea of school. For example:

School is a babysitting service

Boys need to be medicated to cope with school

Forced curriculum assumes that kids are not naturally curious

I’m constantly shocked at what I discover about schools. I can’t believe how much de-schooling I have to do for myself to see clearly when I look at the idea of school.

Recently, I was responding to a comment from MH – one of my favorite commenters here – who said that she took her son to a non-credentialed rock expert to help him identify a pile of rocks he had.

I also have a son with a pile of rocks, so I understood that.

I also understood the idea of thinking of the whole world as teachers instead of thinking of only credentialed teachers as teachers.

It’s the most dangerous assumption we make about school: that there are teachers and everyone else. Really, there are babysitters and non-babysitters, because only some people can cope with thirty kids for eight hours.

But everyone is a teacher, because everyone has something to give in this world.

We can learn from anyone. For example it doesn’t take a teacher trained in phonics to teach reading. That idea was debunked when the whole language movement was born. But it doesn’t take someone who was taught what whole language is to teach reading either. Because most kids can learn to read on their own. They teach themselves when they are ready. I get this information from Lisa Nielsen, reading specialist and New York City public school administrator. But you can get this information from a wide range of people—if you’re open to it.

But the world is not organized by subject. The world is full of people who can teach things that aren’t an official subject. Try thinking this way: everyone is a teacher. Including you. And including everyone your kid meets on a normal day of running errands and playing games.

The idea that everyone is a teacher is so empowering. It reminds us that we are each special in our knowledge of the world – we just need to frame it that way to see it. And doing so reminds us that we each have something to give.

To insist that traditional school teachers are somehow the only ones qualified to teach undermines the very traits that most make us human: curiosity and generosity.


36 replies
  1. jill
    jill says:

    a couple nights ago, i was playing michael jackson videos on youtube for my 10-year-old. he kept asking questions: silver glove, beat it, etc. we talked & listened a long time together.

    as we did, i started thinking, isn’t this equally as valid as, say, algebra (because how will they learn math, they say?) to his “education”?

    it’s not algebra, but to my son, who is musically & dramatically geared, MJ has far more relevance. & he soaked it in.

    & i thought we were just hanging out before bedtime, doing something we love. :)

  2. Heather
    Heather says:

    As one who is qualified to teach, I have to agree with the last sentence. Being qualified to teach allows me to work in the schooling system as it does others who qualify, but to call us all teachers is a stretch to my imagination, let alone others’.
    People outside of the education system have a lot more to teach others, and to ignore or dismiss this only limits our children to a life of institutionalised regimes and other teachers.managers misguided ideas of how to educate our children.
    education outside of school gives the basics for life whilst in school the three R’s reading, ritting and rithmatic????

  3. D.S.
    D.S. says:

    Holy S*%!, MH is a woman? I found no gender references in her comments on the blogs I have read that indicated that, except I suppose for the ones that indicate his/her interactions with the painter while homeschooling. So that would be a gender biased assumption since I have never encountered a stay at home, homeschooling dad.

    My assumptions about MH were also gender biased. Direct, unapologetic, attacking more frequently than defending, all stereotypical male traits.

    It feels kind of good to be wrong but I am a bit sad that there are not more male voices piping in on this side of your blogs PT.

    • mh
      mh says:

      INTJ strikes again…

      Sorry to dash your impressions.

      I often report on the male point of view, since I’m raising a pack of boys.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I’m also an INTJ female. I thought we were a rare breed but you are the third pt follower that is a female INTJ. I get accused of being too blunt and requests are made for me to show more tact when I speak to people. So I can see how we can easily be confused for male unless we say somewhere on these blogs. Like pt I also appreciate your comments even though I never say so specifically.

        • mh
          mh says:

          My family has learned to comunicate with me: Headlines first. Tell me the end, then tell me the story.

          I do know I come across as abrupt or undiplomatic. I write my posts in my “cheery” voice, I promise.

          It’s nice to find a blog where homeschool moms aren’t all a bunch of squishies.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Although I knew you were female! Ok so you, me, Sarah, and Brynn are all INTJ. That can’t be a coincidence even with the law of large numbers. INTJ females are such a small percentage of the US population. So I think there is something about PTs writing that draws us here. I’m a numbers gal and just doing fast math in my head there should only be one or two of us….cool! I have zero INTJ friends or acquaintances so this is fascinating to me.

      • Sarah M
        Sarah M says:

        Too funny. I never found any gender references, either, to MH. Totally thought MH was male. I’m an INTJ as well. So I guess that makes me fourth.
        Sarah M

        • mh
          mh says:

          This whole conversation is creeping me out. Let’s talk about somebody else.

          Do you suppose INTJ women are hard-wired for homeschool, or something? I find it natural and satisfying, but I don’t flock to join a lot of homeschool support groups. My kids do sports and hobby activities, but I’m not connected with a lot of other homeschool families on a personal level.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Ask pt for my email and I’ll give her permission to share it with you. I’m a complete introvert so….I don’t have a lot of close friends. And I’m perfectly content with it. But we have no limits to our options as homeschoolers where we live.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I am the stay-at-home, homeschooling dad you have never encountered. I see more than one other stay-at-home, homeschooling dad on a regular basis. And, yes, my geek horoscope is INTJ as well (Leo, year of the Goat, obviously a force to be reckoned with).

      I find it hard to conceive of someone thinking mh was a man. I believed mh was a woman from the first time I read and enjoyed her posts. I would have been surprised to find out I was wrong. Hello mh, keep up the good work.

      Having the kids home when workmen come over is a clear benefit of homeschooling. As workmen say, it’s time to drop tools.

      My son has always been very engaged by the work people do at the house, whether it’s fixing the windows, installing a ceiling fan, or building a wall. He sat out watching the mason for hours, never mind the bulldozers when we had the back yard regraded. He had great conversations with our electrician. He is looking forward to the next project. All this he would have missed if he were in school. He didn’t get comments on a rock collection, but some folks are pleased to provide an ‘explanation track’ while they work (to which he is more pleased to listen than I). In my experience, a majority of people in all walks of life love children. My kids have friends _everywhere_.

      While I’m here (and the kids haven’t descended on me yet), I’ll put in my two bits on Concentration Tongue.

      “Also, quietly humming the “pink panther” theme song with his tongue sticking out of his mouth.”

      This is when you know they’re really engaged. My understanding is that it’s something about creating a broad ‘white noise’ signal from one of the most neurally involved organs in the body. Any time you see their tongues sticking out, just leave them alone.

      I’m not quite as unschooly as some folks here, and not as schooly as others. There are some things I make my son do (math), and some things I don’t let him do (play video games during the week). Most of what I do could be called ‘curating’ rather than ‘teaching.’ But one thing I’m sure about is that engagement is key to learning. The tongue out is the surest sign, though it seems only to happen during physical learning like sports or drawing. My daughter, who is very physical compared to my cerebral son, gets that tongue out there a lot.

      Ennyway, I liked this part of Penelope’s post:

      “It’s the most dangerous assumption we make about school: that there are teachers and everyone else. Really, there are babysitters and non-babysitters, because only some people can cope with thirty kids for eight hours.”

      Too right. I would add that only some people can deal with Toddler Madness all day, every day. Homeschooling my 9 year old is one thing, but my toddler is running me ragged.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I always appreciate your perspective on this blog because I read most of the comments and now I like you even more that you are a dad! I would call your homeschool approach eclectic, that’s what I call mine.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Commenter! write a blog so I can see what life is like from the stay at home dad perspective. I think my husband would make a bomb stay at home dad. Well, maybe. And he’s a leo. But not an INTJ.

        This is way too much fun now!

  4. kristen
    kristen says:

    Boy, do I believe this.
    As a surgeon, I teach people constantly…anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, etc.
    I’m also a very good teacher, not because I’m smart but because I’m incredibly passionate about what I do and I know it very well. I’m looking for people of passion to teach my kids, credentials are optional. If I find someone who adores woodworking that is who I want teaching my kids how to work with wood. Not someone who is credentialed to teach Shop. The more challenging issue is how do you find these people in a rural community/small town?

    In that vein…this is close to you and I believe there are a lot of passionate folks doing their things.


  5. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I read this this morning and it has taken me this long to think about it. This post is profound–an idea you’ve previously hinted at, but not hit so squarely yet.

    The realization that we are all teachers implies that there’s no reason to go into “education” as a field unto itself if you are passionate about teaching–because the real teaching happens in mentorships with self-directed (and self-elected!) learners (both the teacher and the students learn together without pretense).

  6. D.S.
    D.S. says:

    I also believe by reading MH’s comment that she did not find a non-credentialed rock expert, she in fact found a non-credentialed painter to paint in her home and that person happened to also be knowledgeable about geology.

    She can correct me if I read that wrong. Still fun to read posts from as long ago as Jan 2011 of yours PT. There is a lot of opinions and storied I like to hear about education, and how things work in public schooling, homeschooling, unschooling etc.

    • mh
      mh says:

      D.S. — yes, you got it right.

      I hired a painter who, while working at my house, happened to develop a fascinating interaction with one of my sons. It was fun to watch, they were both so “switched on.”

      Another day in paradise — I have an 11-year old who is trying to draw the Pink Panther cartoon character and has repeatedly started over. He will NOT be daunted. He is convinced he can make it perfect, and he is the most persevering person. Also, quietly humming the “pink panther” theme song with his tongue sticking out of his mouth.

      Ahhh, boys.

      The baby (I can see him out the window) has >> just about <> counting <>saving<< them, I suppose.


  7. mh
    mh says:

    That photo is a VERY nice looking pile of rocks.

    Our rocks tend to live in buckets, sorted by level of “specialness.”

  8. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    This is another one of those topics that are so hard for people to hear/understand the first time. I know I had the same hesitations, because it’s *so* against the grain, though not for us anymore. I also find that others are hesitant to believe anyone without “qualifications, credentials, or degrees”. It’s a complete paradigm shift.

    For example, just this week I’m trying to help a friend who is looking for a dog-trainer. My husband and myself have spent hundreds of hours researching, training our own dogs with success, helping other people with their dogs (in person and just verbal suggestions) for pay or barter, and yet they’re hesitant to listen to me because ‘it’s *just* a hobby for us. Hm. I’m trying to save them money and make it work in an easy (but disciplined, for a time) way, and they don’t want to hear it because I’m not a pro. It’s so strange.
    Sarah M

    • mh
      mh says:

      That’s very cool.

      What sort of system do you use? There’s this book called “Don’t Shoot the Dog” that (I know, I know) improved my parenting skills.

      Yes, I *know* that children aren’t pets. But discipline techniques are learnable.

  9. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    No, I get it. The parenting/dog training thing. HA! I don’t say it first because then the ‘real big eye rolls’ start coming.

    We have honestly just learned a lot from watching Cesar Milan’s “The Dog Whisperer”, and from that starting off point, spurred us on in learning about dog breeds (different breeds are used for different things, eg; huskies for sled dogs), family culture + dog temperaments (like which dog is best for your family) and reading as much as we could about other methods of dog training.
    Just like what PT always talks about on this blog–we were interested in it ourselves, did all the research for fun and interest, and made some money and a reputation for it.

    We really appreciate the calm + submissive (dog)/ calm + assertive (owner). It really helps people to not only have well behaved, and therefore enjoyable dogs as pets, but it gives people confidence in themselves, as well. Win-win.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I don’t have a problem with schools, administrators, teachers, and certifications. I have a problem with my government and its’ mandates on our educational system. It’s in your face and the most recent example is Common Core. Here in NY State there are many parents, teachers, and school districts that are complaining loudly as Common Core is being implemented here. And I see families pulling their kids out of public school as a result. Here’s the rub here – you can homeschool BUT their are many restrictions and conditions.
    My point is schools and school reform if fine for those families that elect that option. Schools can be available for those States, counties, or communities that decide that’s what they want and is in their best interest. Schools can exist in some form based on their own merit as delineated by the parents and communities that use them. And if there isn’t enough money to support such a model (is there ever enough money?), then Bill Gates or somebody else’s foundation can fund them. Also, are mentors required to be certified? When someone can convince me that a “certified” mentor is more effective at transferring their skills to their mentee than an “uncertified” mentor, that will be the day.

  11. Emm
    Emm says:


    I have only been reading your posts for a short time, and I find the viewpoints expressed interesting, and sometimes refreshing.
    I have been homeschooling for about 25 years, and throughout that time I have seen and heard my share of opinions on how it is best done.
    From personal experience I can tell you that there is no one “formula.” What seems to work well for one family may not work well in another. I think we each have to find our own way.
    The reason for posting is that I must disagree with you wholeheartedly about your position on reading instruction. Holding your child and cuddling him or her with a book is a wonderful bonding moment, but that is not the only thing that is required in learning to read!

    The English language is a composite language from many European roots, and a learner must be guided in how the language works. Those letters each have a name and there are various sounds that correspond to those letters. Occasionally, the way the word is pronounced in “real life” does not exactly match with the combination and order of the letters written down. For example, the letter /t/ represents at least three different sounds, and two additional sounds if it is paired with /h/ in the consonant team /th/.

    In addition, there are a minimum of two basic spelling and pronunciation systems going on simultaneously in the language. There is a Germanic base to the language, but by the time a child is reading three-syllable or multi-syllable words, the whole system has changed over to mostly a Latin-and-Greek inspired system (along with all those daughter languages).

    The language is fraught with exceptions and places where, to a struggling learner, it appears to be one recognized combination, such as in the word , where the /e/ and /a/ are in separate syllables, not the vowel team /ea/. These and many more need to be properly explained.
    A child, particularly a bright child, might be able to sort his/her way through mostly on his own, as that happens every day in most school settings, but why impose this on a curious child when he or she could be gently, patiently, and consistently guided in learning the workings of the language. There are plenty of sound guidelines.
    It is not wise to deprive them of this knowledge under the guises of enabling self-discovery. There are many areas in which a child may explore self-discovery, such as the topics he/she may choose to read once he or she has been provided the proper tools to be able to do so.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Emm, I’m a big fan of going with the research. So, intuitively, I think kids need to be taught to read. Because I was taught to read and I taught my oldest son to read. But all the research I’ve read shows that unless there is a cognitive problem (dyslexia, for example) reading is intuitive.

      So many exceptional things about language — like those you list – are actually nuances that a three-year-old understands as they pick up on language. How we pick up language is amazing and magical and it makes sense that we’d think kids need us to teach them to read.

      But the research shows this is not true. I don’t understand why you would think the research is wrong? Bank Street, for example, has a strong reputation. Lisa Nielsen has a strong reputation. They are reading specialists saying kids don’t need to be taught how to read.

      I don’t understand why people don’t believe the research when it’s there. I know it’s hard to change. It was hard for me to trust the research and refrain from teaching my second son to read. But you know what? He taught himself.


      • Emm
        Emm says:


        Thanks for you reply. In response, I will say this: Is it possible for people to learn to read the language, unassisted by adult guides? Yes. Many intelligent children do so every year in the public schools, despite the lack of proper instruction.
        I did that myself many years ago, as an immigrant to this country. When my family settled here the educational establishment had chucked orderly, phonetic instruction “out the window,” and I had to learn English reading for myself, quite unassisted by anyone in the school setting. As I learned the language, I taught myself to read.
        The one thing I had going for me was the background in a very phonetic, Latin-based language with a high phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence. It was only through that knowledge that I was able to piece together the correlation between what I was hearing and what I could perceive from the written language.
        If I would not have had that background, reading in English might still be a mystery.
        After having guided children in reading in the public schools as well as in our homeschool setting, I can tell you from personal experience that the process went much more smoothly when the child had an idea of what those letters meant, and in which particular order they were to be pronounced.
        What I can’t understand is why anybody would attempt to teach the English language as if it were anything but a western European language. It was designed to be read in a particular order by assigning certain letters in a particular way. Even if you don’t study the historical development of the language, there are patterns which are recognizable after a short time of experience with the language.
        The “experts” have their ideas, and I’ll continue putting effort into that which I know works, because I have lived it.
        And the process would have been so much sweeter had someone with a knowledge of the language, and an interest in teaching these concepts, been available to guide the way.

  12. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    It appears this web site and blog ( http://scistarter.com/about.html ) also believes in the “we are all teachers” mantra and encourages an open source environment and sharing of scientific knowledge by scientists and enthusiastic non-scientists alike. It’s mission from the above link is – “SciStarter will bring together the millions of citizen scientists in the world; the thousands of potential projects offered by researchers, organizations, and companies; and the resources, products, and services that enable citizens to pursue and enjoy these activities. We aim to:

    Enable and encourage people to learn about, participate in, and contribute to science through both informal recreational activities and formal research efforts.
    Inspire greater appreciation and promote a better understanding of science and technology among the general public.
    Create a shared space where scientists can talk with citizens interested in working on or learning about their research projects.
    Satisfy the popular urge to tinker, build, and explore by making it simple and fun for people—singles, parents, grandparents, kids—to jump in and get their hands dirty with science.”
    The founder of this and another venture (Science Cheerleader) is a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader. Go figure. :)

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