I'm in my fourth year of directing a Challenge program for Classical Conversations. I started off in Challenge A with my oldest, then moved up to Challenge B, and Challenge I with him. This year, I went back down to Challenge A again to tutor my daughter's class. My husband directed Challenge A last year, and is now directing Challenge II with our son. Even though we both direct, we operate very differently. I recently received an email asking about how much time it takes to direct a Challenge program. Since I can't put a number on it, I decided I'd share some thoughts about where Challenge directors spend their time.
Just a side note...this post is not sponsored in any way by Classical Conversations, nor is it to be read as an official source on Challenge directing. Your best source for accurate information about your particular community is your local Support Representative.
The Time It Takes
There are three main elements of directing that will take time: learning the material, preparing for community, and equipping the parents/teachers. The time required to complete each of these elements will be different for each director. Here are some things to consider:
Time to Learn the Material
I think this is what freaks most people out. Since many of us did not receive an education that equipped us to retain and communicate the things we've learned, the idea of learning six strands of material in order to lead a decent discussion is intimidating. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- You can't learn it all. Even though you might want to do everything that the students are doing, we don't have the available time to learn it all. Pick one or two seminars that you really want to dig in to. Focus on learning those well. The time it takes to do that is varied by seminar and by the person studying. If you've never studied Latin, it's going to take some time to learn. The value is that you've struggled through it, and then you know how to help the students struggle through it.
- You don't need to learn it all. Your job as a director is not to be an expert. This was a hard one for me. We're not lecturing in class, we're leading discussions. Therefore, you simply need to be familiar with the material, equipped to ask questions, and curious about what the kids think. It's so easy to get side tracked by what discovery of your own that you want your students to discover, that you miss what truth they need to discuss. It's an issue of good, better, or best. A good conversation discusses the basics of a topic of study. A better conversation leads students to a deeper truth that a mentor is guiding them towards. A best conversation is one where students discuss truth that answers a burning question in their soul. If they have the opportunity to form an opinion, and they've arrived there themselves, then they will remember that conversation for years to come.
When do I get this done?
- Summer time prep is a great time for getting your head wrapped around a subject. This is generally when I read the novels for the year, mark them up, and think through them. If they're marked well, they will be easy to review before you need to discuss them in class. Then I typically focus on one other seminar to work all the way through during the summer.
- On years when I was a new director, I'd spend an hour a day studying, or set aside one evening a week to fit in what I could. Again, I'm not going to be able to master it all, but that's okay, because I don't need to.
Time to Prepare for Community Day
Knowing the information is a great start towards being prepared. You're also going to need time to plan out how you're going to present the material, facilitate conversations, and engage the students.
This can be done while you're studying, but it's most effective if you do it on a week-by-week basis. Teaching is an art form. If you're committed to a plan that you imagined would go well, but is missing the mark, then you're not serving your community well. By planning as you go, you can make adjustments as you go.
This usually takes me around an hour a week. I'm also on my fourth year of directing. It will be different for everyone. In this hour, I plan out my time for each seminar, gather materials, and print off any additional handouts (these are minimal, and not weekly).
If you're new, you may have to spend a little more time learning how to direct in addition to learning the materials. Here are some resources for learning how to direct:
- Summer training at the practicum. This three day training is in the afternoons of a local 3 day practicum. The focus of your challenge training is practicing facilitating the conversations. You won't get detailed instructions for each seminar here, but don't worry, there are additional resources to follow up this training.
- Learning Pathways - Once you're contracted as a director and have attended your director licensing orientation (DLO), you'll get access to an online resource (the Classical Portal) that has online trainings, archived videos, and additional documents intended to equip and prepare you for directing. I leaned heavily on these videos my first year.
- Director Forum - This is another resource in the Classical Portal. It is a place where you can ask specific questions to the program team and other directors about your Challenge level. I subscribe to the feed so that I can see the conversations going on about whatever Challenge level I'm directing. It can be overwhelming to hear all the chatter if you're new, so make sure you guard yourself there!
- Facebook Groups - There are also several Facebook groups for sharing encouragement where I find great inspiration. Warning: these groups are not official, so you might get totally side tracked there! Keep the serious questions for the forum, and the inspiration/fun ideas for the Facebook group.
Time to Equip the Parents/Teachers
The last element of directing that takes time is equipping your parents to teach their children. Since this task also has many variables, I'll just talk about what you'll need to consider if you're directing.
Typically, a director holds parent equipping events before class starts in addition to an orientation for the parents and students. These will vary depending on the needs of your parents. In Challenge A, I held equipping events for Latin and the Lost Tools of Writing. In Challenge B, we worked on Latin and Logic. In Challenge I, we worked on Policy Debate. It really just depends on what your families need.
- How old/new is your community? If this is the first year of Challenge in your community, you'll carry an extra weight of helping families learn along with you. My first year directing Challenge A was like this. However, if you're signing on to direct a Challenge level in a community where Challenge has been around for years, you'll have a greater pool of resources for all kinds of additional things like field trips, socials, and additional equipping.
- How new are your parents? Even in established communities, if the majority of your moms are new to the Challenge program, they'll need a little extra help. This is time spent on phone calls, answering emails, or on library days. This will look different week to week as well.
- How many parents do you have? I've tutored classes of five and classes of twelve. The volume of parents will add to the time you spend equipping them and communicating with them. However, with a smaller group, you might spend more time just because you develop deeper relationships.
A Directing Dad's Take on the Time Issue
For the men out there (or wives who are thinking about asking their men to direct), I thought I'd interview my husband on his perspective on the time it takes to direct.
Do you have to know everything to direct?
There is a misconception that you have to know everything before directing. A little humility goes a long way. It all comes back to cultivating character. If you tend to see yourself as an expert, it can be a hindrance, because directing a Challenge program is probably not what you expect it will be. You have to be flexible and humble.
This is a "caught" not "taught" program. The goal is to facilitate discussion so that young people will have a safe place to learn to be free thinkers. Your community will struggle if you know everything yet communicate in a rude way. However, if you're compassionate and can put yourself into their shoes, that will go a lot further towards cultivating an environment of learning. Anxiety is a major problem of our culture. If you foster anxiety by being anxious, you're not serving your community well.
How do you balance supporting a family and directing?
This will be unique to every individual. Since I have a flexible job and work from home, I schedule my work to leave a day open for community day. In order to be ready for directing, I plan my calendar to include 1-2 hours a week to prepare for our class. This can be early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekends. I have to be intentional about my preparations. It's definitely doable.
How do you survive as one of the only men in the community?
This took a while to get used to. Once I realized that the women were encouraged to have a male leader present, I felt much more comfortable. Generally the relationships I'm developing are centered around the students rather than the mothers, because that's who I'm spending time with on community day. Most of my communication with the parents is through e-mail. There is an occasional phone call, but if I need to speak with a mom directly, I find them on community day to have that conversation.
What are your tips for new directors?
- Know the guide well. Know how it's structured. This helps to know how to direct and encourage the parents and students. Most of the questions they ask you are answered in the guide. You can direct them there if you know where to look.
- Know where you're going. Continue to look ahead in the guide. Some assignments need advanced warning, or stuff sneaks up on you.
- Know yourself. How do you study? How much time do you need to read through things? If you have weakness, use the parents and students to fill in the gaps. I'm horrible at games. The kids aren't. I can assign specific kids to come prepared with a review game for the class to make that a more effective tool.
- Know your class. Find out who your talkers are and who your wall flowers are. Know how to ask different kinds of questions to different types of students. The environment you cultivate in class is just as important as knowing the material well.
- Know the Word. Always look for ways to bring your discussions back to God's truth, character, and attributes. Compare the ideas authors bring up with Biblical truth. If you know God's Word, it will anchor you in directing discussions.
What questions do you have about directing Challenge programs?
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.