Mother is Your First Teacher

 Tamara Dyer provides educational opportunities and guidance to her young children. 

By Dwain Hebda/Photography by Lily Darragh

Home School 101

Qasim Dyer of Little Rock may have only completed kindergarten, but he knows what he likes. Math, for one thing, “because I get to use my fingers to count.” Home schooling, for another, something he shares in common with his 11-year-old sister, Tahira Marcano. The bright lad said the best thing about being home-schooled is that "I have my mom here with me. It’s good because I love her.”

Qasim’s assessment of home schooling is profound beyond his years. Home schooling is on the rise in the United States and while families have many reasons for getting into it, they’re consistently getting out of it extraordinary educational outcomes. And the secret, researchers say, lies in the one-on-one personal attention that Qasim enjoys with his mother and educator Tamara Dyer.

“A lot of times in public schools, in brick and mortar, you get left behind because even if you don’t understand it they just show it to you and they keep going,” Tamara said. “But in this particular program, you have to actually do the work. As a learning coach, I’m here to guide you and keep you going, but not do it for you.” Tamara teaches using Arkansas Virtual Academy, a tuition-free online charter school.

The numbers tell the story. Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, noted in a March 2016 summary that home-educated students typically score 15 to 30 percentage points better than public school students on standardized academic achievement tests. Population subgroups do even better; AfricanAmerican home-educated students score a whopping 23 to 42 percentage points better than their publicly-educated peers.

What’s more, home-educated students (1.7 million of them in 2011, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics) achieve these numbers regardless of parents’ educational backgrounds, household income or how much parents spend on their child’s education, reinforcing the role that one-on-one attention plays in the educational process.

“I wanted to be more involved with (my children’s) schooling,” Tamara said. “I feel like your mother is your first teacher. Well, I took that wholeheartedly and here I am.”

Tamara began this journey after her daughter, now a rising sixth grader, completed a pre-kindergarten program. With two years of college under her belt and having started a successful business, Tamara didn’t feel intimidated by the prospect of taking over responsibility for her child’s education.

“I didn’t feel like there was anything I couldn’t teach them,” she said. “You don’t have to know every answer in the book. As long as you can say ‘I’ll look it up, I’ll find out,’ and have that determination to make sure that you know and that you tell them. Or, at least have the ability to help them find the information.”

That philosophy has passed onto Tahira, whose demonstrated love for the computer early on was a tremendous advantage. Distance learning via a digital curriculum is the educational backbone for many home-school setups, to say nothing of putting the world’s research capabilities within reach.

“She always has loved the computer, starting in kindergarten,” Tamara said. “Now she’s like, ‘I can research anything I want to research. If I don’t understand it, I just get on there and find out.’”

“What I like most about being home-schooled is that I can ask for help if I’m having trouble with work or I don’t understand a problem,” Tahira said. “I like having my mom as my teacher, because she can teach me her own lessons.”

As for the age-old knock that home-schooled kids are too sheltered to develop social skills or learn to interact with others, study after study shows home-educated students far outpace their peers in communication, maturity, social skills and college graduation rates. Researchers surmise this is in part because of the many non-school supported activities that exist (4-H, church, dance class) and the elimination of bullying and peer pressure that distract from the educational process.

“I don’t feel like it’s a drawback at all, because they grow the skills at home to deal with every situation that they encounter when they go out,” Tamara said. “When I was in public school, I just dealt with a situation when it occurred; this gives them a little advance knowledge of certain situations that they might go through.”