Our Schooling Journey--The Dry Version
In my earlier post about our children going to public school after home schooling exclusively, I shared our first day experiences in my usual voice. At the same time, I was working on this post. This is a more matter-of-fact post that lays out our personal experiences in a very cut-and-dry manner. That wasn't my mood last week, but now I am ready to re-visit the topic.
Our Reasons for Choosing to Home school:
From my classroom experience and research, I understand that American public schools, with the best of intentions, teach too many topics, too early. It is overwhelming to look at the amount of objectives (those specific skills/tasks you want children to master) at each grade level. For example, I still firmly believe--and this is shared by experts who know more than me--that the math topic, re-grouping ("borrowing" from old school days), should be introduced in third grade. In most states, it is always introduced in second grade. People mistakenly think that a child who can complete a series of steps in an algorithm understands the place value concepts involved. I think pushing this concept back to third grade and giving more time for teaching it would result in better understanding in upper grades. I also understand that those who design curriculum usually mean well and want children to learn as much as possible in schools.
The school day is often very inefficient. The amount of time in a typical school day that is NOT spent on academic tasks would surprise many outside of the educational system. The most organized administrators and teachers cannot prevent this completely, although they can decrease the time. It's just the nature of the system and even were it given a major overhaul, there would necessarily still be "wasted" time. The complete elimination of wasted time still eludes the worlds of business and industry, so it is understandable that it would exist in our schools, also. It's just all those pesky people who are necessary!
Bathrooms, lunch table, playground, school bus. These are the areas that scared me and I wanted to protect my children from them. Teachers generally don't enter the bathroom with students. They usually do not eat at the table with students in the lunch room and even if they do, they can't hear every conversation happening at the table. Lunchroom monitors have too many other things to monitor. Recess, for districts who still allow it (!), is usually 15-20 minutes. Teachers on recess duty cannot monitor all the conversations on a playground. It would be impossible. The same is true for bus drivers on a school bus. The first time I heard profanity, dirty jokes or was treated with meanness was in one of these places and it was shocking to me. I would have NEVER shared any of it at home because I would have been too embarrassed. My mother was not from an open-communication generation of parents. No school, no administrator, no teacher can control these areas completely. Only in the most unorganized, poorly-managed classroom would there be time or opportunity for inappropriate comments and discussions to be made during class.
We wanted to integrate our faith into the overall curriculum. Good citizenship goes only so far as a motivator for good behavior. We wanted our children to develop a strong moral central core, based on our Catholic faith, from which their actions and decisions could come.
We wanted a peaceful, calm family life where we were not rushed and we could set the schedule. We could let our children sleep later, exercise before beginning school, and have frequent breaks. It seemed a way to make the learning process more organic and less manufactured or forced.
The reasons list above all converge to form one simple objective which was greatest in our mind: we wanted what was best for our children.
So, for three years, we have been homeschooling, in various forms. There were good days and bad days, successes and failures, smiles and tears. For me and the children.
The Good and the Not-so-good From Our Home school Experience:
I have not been satisfied with any book sets offered by home school companies. I do not use the term curriculum here with intention because there is a difference between a curriculum (click on the term for a very helpful and clear definition) and a set of books, particularly a set of workbooks, which may or may not include a parent script or daily schedule, manipulatives or other equipment. When I taught elementary and middle school, I usually had to supplement materials in order to effectively teach the objectives in our curriculum, no matter how good the textbooks and workbooks, but when I examined home school materials, I saw I would be better off to design my own curriculum, based on the state objectives, or TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). That meant spending more money, assembling my own resources, and doing prep and planning work from scratch. For two children. In two different grades. I'm no stranger to curriculum design. My first teaching job required me to design a course and its curriculum from scratch, but that was for one course, one grade level. I worked hard evenings and weekends, especially that first year, just for that one prep, in order to design a quality curriculum and teach well.
Instruction was quicker since it was done one-on-one. I didn't have to monitor the facial expressions, body signs, and comments of a large group of students as I was teaching so I could reach to the various levels in the room. If my child knew the concept and could demonstrate such knowledge, we could move on, without following someone's schedule. I could determine level of mastery or problems much more quickly in our one-on-one situation.
Our family was either isolated or following a hectic schedule to create opportunities for group activity. My children had limited exposure to different types of people. At first, this was intentional in order to protect our children from the ugliness of the world, for as long as possible. However, we learned the lesson that our children were not completely sheltered, even in our world made up of primarily home schooling families. When we moved across town, we found ourselves in a neighborhood with more children. Our children played with the neighbors--people we did not hand-select--and it was fine. It was good. Thanks be to God, I have friends who shared the wisdom they gained on their parenting journeys and my heart has moved from fear as my motivation in parenting.
I've had some health issues this past year that made it hard to manage schooling last school year. Both issues were greatly affected by stress, so it was a vicious cycle. The past nine years have presented many trials, along with great joys. I am fortunate that I have doctors who understand that mothers need to be healthy for themselves and their families.
My mother was firmly opposed to my decision to home school. She wasn't a fan of the idea in general, but she addressed me specifically when speaking about the matter. She told me she didn't know how I could do a good job when it came to my tasks at home while doing an equally good job teaching at home. She told me there were too many things that come up unexpectedly and they would keep me from schoolwork. I didn't want to listen. But, check, check: she was right. Honestly, part of me felt like a failure. I was successful in a classroom, but couldn't teach at a level with which I was satisfied at home. I found myself doing a mediocre job of everything. On a good day. Dad-gum-it, she was right.
Another major point in my mother's argument against homeschooling was one that I heard for years. It was the reason that my mother never taught me to paint, even though she taught tole painting. It was the reason that most of my driving practice occurred in my high school driver's education class. Mama always said parents have more patience teaching people other than their own children.
A few weeks ago, I read a post on homeschooling that made me think about that statement from Mama:
I've had some strong reactions to home school articles before, but this particular article which at times generalized for all parents an individual experience, prompted such a reaction from me that those closest to me heard about it. Maybe more than once. Here's an excerpt:
'Of course, isn’t it ironic that the same society that tells us we can’t manage our own children also assures us that perfect strangers can! Mom, you can’t deal with you own child, but a school teacher or day care worker who barely knows their name can handle them and 29 others without a glitch!
Right. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?'
Right. Dark, dank dungeons, called schools and day cares, children chained to mold-covered walls? Strangers--just random, name-less, uninterested people--pulled off the streets and brought in--new ones every day--strangers! For anyone who has ever witnessed the magic and skill of a teacher handling twenty or more children in a public school classroom, school --as it actually exists--does make sense.
Schools are miracle places. Good teachers actually can handle students with hardly ever a glitch. It's amazing. In spite of the problems with our educational system, miracles happen within the walls of schools every day. Children who were barely vocal begin to speak after working with special education staff. Kindergarten teachers manage to have a classroom of little ones reading--READING--at some level by the end of the year. Most people would be hard pressed to have that same group of students walking in a straight line by the end of the year, but those special big-hearted magicians called teachers can do what most of the population just cannot. Teachers see a side of children that parents often don't see. Doctors don't treat their own family because they are too close and will have a biased view. Teachers can often bring out the best in our children or ignite a spark. That's their gift. That's their calling.
In our town (well, both--twin cities), you can trace the development of neighborhoods. You can see how people abandoned one area and moved to the next big thing, over and over. We are left with once-grand and once-nice homes in disrepair amidst problem neighborhoods. It makes me think of our public schools. Our nation is too large to just serve children through only private and home schools. We need a healthy, thriving public education system. Our future as a republic with informed participants depends upon it. If all of us who are concerned with and involved in our children's education simply abandon our public schools, they will be left to deteriorate and crumble, like once vibrant neighborhoods of old.
Our family's educational journey has taken a turn and it's a new one for us. There will be peaks and valleys. There would be peaks and valleys in private school or in a home school. I went to an overall-terrible school through eleventh grade. We're talking flaws and problems in exponential form, but I still had a few good teachers who greatly impacted my life. I also learned what was bad and ugly in the world and knew how it contrasted with all that was good. It made the good and beautiful even more precious. This path is what seems best for our family at this time. Our goal is still the same: we want want is best for our children and our family and we will always evaluate that and do what we feel is best at that time. Not what is best for my ego as a teacher. Not what best matches some two-dimensional ideal of family life I created in my mind.
So, I'm praying for a smooth transition. I'm also giving thanks for the wonderful friends who have been here for me to just listen, offer help and encouragement through this time of discernment. Those long conversations over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Those little text messages. The tour and meeting with a principal set up by a friend whose children attend the same school. The love and support have been overwhelming. The girls still love going to school and we are adjusting to our new schedule. They are exhausted in the evening and ready for bed. Little brother is enjoying his time at home, but he is excited when it's time to pick his sisters up from school.
I still think I should have cameras following us around, though. Me figuring out this school stuff and adjusting to a firmer schedule provides lots of entertainment! I'm sure I'm not the only mom who has fallen asleep sitting in the car line while reading, though. At least I woke up before someone had to wake me up!
So, please, keep us in your prayers. We need them. :)