One of the many unique sessions at the SEA Convention this year was the Harry Potter Trivia Contest, and it’s no surprise that it was presented by a very unique teacher! Christy Seelye-King not only hosted this fun event for older kids and teens at the convention, but she also created a challenging and detailed Harry Potter scavenger hunt that took players all over the hotel as they sought the answers. She’s given us a wonderful window into her life, and we’d love to share that with you.
A Unique Teacher for Unorthodox Students
Teaching homeschoolers is an adventure I never dreamed of taking. When I started almost 15 years ago, I certainly didn’t think I was making a career of it, nor did I anticipate the challenges and rewards it would present. Teaching classes to the homeschooling community offers a world of expression for both me and my students. With the concept of the whole wide world as your educational oyster, the freedom to explore topics that catch the student’s interest provides me with the opportunity to take a holistic approach to learning. I have learned to allow students free rein when they want to take a tangential topic and run with it, knowing that if I can encourage a passion for learning in someone, that is a much greater accomplishment than imparting any particular fact or curriculum point I may have thought was important. If they glean a love of learning from me, they will go on to become life-long learners, a goal I think ultimately makes the world a better place.
I tell my students that while I had a public-school education, in essence, I have “homeschooled” my higher education throughout my life. I never trained as a teacher; I didn’t even finish college. (I left college after two years to pursue a chef’s apprenticeship, and I was the first woman in the Southeast to graduate from the American Culinary Federation’s program in 1984.) I wasn’t homeschooled, although I have thought many times that if it had been a “thing” when I was growing up, my mom and I would have done brilliantly with the concept. In fact, we did a lot of what today could be considered “unschooling.”
I don’t even have kids of my own. So how did I manage to become so entrenched in the homeschool lifestyle?
I tell people that I slid into teaching sideways. I was asked to teach my first class when I was 18, and I was surprised because I had never considered myself a teacher. It turns out that I have an innate talent for it. My credentials are largely non-traditional. In addition to my chef’s apprenticeship, over the years I have taken various training courses to learn how to run a small business, develop computer skills, identify healthy foods, understand the big business of food production, and become a certified ServSafe instructor so I can teach safe food handling to professionals in the food service world.
I have been an employee trainer at almost every job I have held — at some point, someone always recognizes me as a natural-born teacher and taps me for the position. I was the Health and Education Coordinator at Sevananda Natural Foods for several years, conducting employee and membership training as well as scheduling the learning center classroom space there with many other workshops and programs. When I think about the way I have built up my experience in the field, it feels very much like I’ve unschooled myself over the years!
I am a very creative educator. Probably because of my lack of formal training, I tend to think outside the box when it comes to my approach to various topics, most notably my Living History classes. Having been a historical reenactor since I was 18, my fascination with the daily lives of historic peoples and cultures dominates my curriculum. I refuse to teach the timeline of warfare that comprises most history classes.
At our recent LEAD talent show, I put up one of my classroom activities for everyone to play with. It is a timeline in the form of a long piece of white paper on the wall, and a collection of historic dates and inventions printed on small slips of paper. The object was to read the date on the slip of paper, then attach it to the timeline with tape or glue. It was astounding how many adults approached my table but then said, “Oh, I’m so bad at history, I couldn’t do that!” (Mind you, the slips not only had a picture but a description and a date printed on them; there was no guesswork involved.) Poor textbooks and dispassionate teachers have traumatized generations of adults to the point where they are convinced that learning history is beyond them.
My approach is to involve the students in the time period. I give everyone a persona of someone who might have lived then, and I encourage discussion of their daily lives and how those would differ according to the social classes of the era, making the period come alive and become relevant to their current existence.
I actually had one former student tell me I had ruined history for her since my class was so much fun and so informative. In the traditional school she attended, her history teacher, who only taught to the test, was boring her to death, and she knew how much better it could be because of my class!
Studying the way people lived, how they dressed, what sort of transportation they had, what their technology was like, what they ate and how they celebrated, brings bygone eras to life in a way few other history classes can do.
My Life Skills classes take a similar approach, taking a topic that used to be called “Home Ec” to a relevant level for kids about to strike out on their own. We study Money Matters, Kitchen Chemistry, Pest Control, Home Maintenance, Hand Sewing and more, giving students real skills to fend for themselves. I recall the classes I took way back in Middle School Home Ec — they were mostly useless, and I don’t think I retained or use anything I was exposed to then.
Overall, I like to make my classes informative and entertaining, although I loathe the term “edutainment” and am always searching for a better alternative.
Turning Challenges into Connections
One of the challenges of working with smaller homeschool groups is having a wide range of ages within one classroom. At first, that seemed like a problem, but the more I work with diverse age groups, the better I like it. Since many homeschool families have siblings of varying ages at home, they get used to helping one another, and it creates a much more cooperative feel in the classroom. I have come to value the help of older students with the younger ones, and the delight and excitement of the younger ones tend to infect the older teens that might otherwise lean toward boredom. Especially when I’m working with students who may have been diagnosed with a learning disability or are somewhere on a spectrum, lighting a spark that makes them passionate about finding out more is one of the best things I can do for them. Having different age groups within the same class adds to the richness of the experience and the diversity of projects in which classes can participate.
Working with homeschoolers has definitely influenced my teaching in other areas as well. When I present classes and workshops to adults in settings such as conferences or as talks to specialty groups, my educational and entertaining approach is usually met with comments like, “That was the best and most unusual program we’ve ever had!” As adult learners, people who have been through a typical educational system are delighted to find creative, new ways to experience learning as a recreational activity. Whether I’m speaking to a group, presenting at a conference, or leading a hands-on workshop, people respond well to being “homeschooled,” even if they don’t realize that is what’s happening!
For the SEA Homeschoolers conference, developing the Harry Potter Trivia and Scavenger Hunt has been great fun for me, as I hope it has been for all the participants.
Have a great summer, and let’s go learn something!