I’ve been struggling with public education for a couple of decades now. It happened when I had students that didn’t fit into the “box.” The struggle was even more powerful when I had children of my own that wanted to fit into that box. I’ve taught in public school, private school, charter school, Christian and non-Christian, co-ops, homeschool academies, etc. I have a bit of experience with education. I am an amazing reading teacher. It’s an instinctive thing. I can sit with almost any child and after working with him/her a time or two, I can teach him/her to read and love it. Mostly I teach them how to love it and then they just read with a little bit of help and encouragement.
About 14 years ago, our kiddos were all attending the local public school near our home in Michigan. I was homeroom mom in their classes and I was the PTA president, as well. Most mornings I got up around 5:30 so that I could spend some time in the Bible and talking with Jesus – with 5 kids, this was really my only option! As I spent time in prayer I felt Him leading me to consider schooling our children at home. NOW, let me just tell you, our oldest was a high school junior and our youngest (twins) were in 2nd grade. I had just gotten to a point in my life, after YEARS of no girl social life, where I could meet friends for lunch and tea, where I could go get my nails done with no one else to constantly entertain or keep out of trouble. It was heavenly! I couldn’t believe He wanted to take that all from me!! I remember this happened just before the holidays, but I didn’t say a word to anyone until January – mostly because I just didn’t want to do it. When I shared with my husband what God had been showing me, he was less than thrilled – and as we told others during the next months, there was even less support. I think our parents and siblings all thought I had lost my mind… and so did I…
We decided to wait until that summer to make a definite decision because I was a little terrified of the responsibility of it all. By July our kiddos were very excited about the whole thing and even our oldest had decided to join us and not attend public school his senior year. We informed the school in August and joined some families in the area who had been homeschooling for years. It was wonderful in many ways, but because I had been a classroom teacher for several years, I was having a hard time breaking the mold and leading my kiddos in the way I believe He wanted me to.
It wasn’t long after starting this adventure that our “popular” kid started rebelling. He missed his friends and the ego boost he got on the regular from being well-liked at his school. As difficult as this was for me, it was one of the most confirming events in my journey. God clearly showed me what my son’s future would be if we would’ve left him in public school. I understood more clearly than ever the dangers of being a popular kid. The high of being liked is a drug that few children can handle. I committed myself to helping my children become leaders and not followers. It was a long and exhausting road that I’ve never regretted.
Stepping away from our public school system and seeing it with new eyes was like being deprogrammed after a long stint of brainwashing. I understand that some people whom I care for deeply will be offended by some of the things I have to say about this, but I feel that my experience with so many types of primary and secondary education gives me the authority to speak about this with some expertise. I can also share that droves of our family members and friends have come to us and confessed that they doubted our decision to homeschool our children and have nothing but respect for it now. I believe that most, if not all, of our children will choose to school their children at home or in some unconventional way that best suits their families.
I will briefly answer the main concerns/questions we dealt with when first sharing our decision to homeschool:
What about socialization? I think most people meant socializing, but they almost always said socialization which means “the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, language, social skills, and value to conform to the norms and roles required for integration into a group or community.”
I have a few things to say about this question. First of all, how does sitting in a classroom with approximately 20 other people that are less than a year older or younger than you, prepare you for society? When else are we in this situation except in a classroom? – Where, honestly, there is very little socializing except on the 3 allowable party days of the year and for the short 20 minute recess period each day and lunch time where kiddos are expected to be quiet and stay seated. Once or twice a week they get a 45 minute PE time and sometimes they are allowed to play and interact with one another. So, in the best case scenario, our children have less than 300 minutes each week to socialize with their peers at school. They are in school for 2400 minutes each week and they are allowed to interact freely for 1/8 of that time in the best of worlds – assuming they don’t spend time buying their lunches in the cafeteria, that they don’t spend time receiving instruction from the teacher during PE or recess or Heaven forbid, that they don’t have to do unfinished classwork or sit out for behavior during recess. Also, this does not account for restroom breaks during these times. In our homeschool life, our children interacted with wait staff, clerks, and many other service people who were various ages on the regular. The co-ops we joined provided classes in many areas that included students from a spectrum of ages and I believe it helped my children get past the “snobbiness” that many children have about being older or in a higher grade. Homeschool children don’t typically give much thought to how old one another is. It just isn’t an issue.
The second BIG concerns centered on: Where will you get the books you need? How will you know if you’re doing what the school is doing so that they are where they’re supposed to be?
There are SO many curricula available for home teachers. All you need to do is jump on the internet and do a search. Check Amazon to get the cheapest, used prices, but don’t forget there are MANY homeschool bookstores in every state and you can order from most of them online if there isn’t one close to you in your state. It’s quite easy to get a list of objectives for each grade in most, if not all states. Seems that would be a requirement so that parents know what is expected of their child each year. The beautiful thing for us was that we actually completed our texts, unlike most public school classrooms where there just isn’t enough time to fit it all in with reteaching and time constraints, etc. Also, I could slow down or speed up with each of my kiddos individually because I was the boss, I knew what each of them needed most and I didn’t have to worry about interruptions such as announcements, assemblies, drills, absent and tardy students, etc. to disrupt focused learning. I also didn’t have to teach reading for exactly 45 minutes a day, and fit into someone else’s box, (who has NO idea what it means to be in an elementary classroom, btw) while my students missed out on what they may have really needed that day.
Here’s what I learned during my homeschooling years:
Parents know their children better than any teacher, principal or government official. We should trust them and partner with them, not treat them like an inconvenience and certainly not like they are inept. Of course there are a very few parents who drive teachers crazy, but I’ve found that if you honor those parents and treat them with respect and understand you are working for them, most of those strugglers will turn into wonderful partners and their children will benefit in HUGE ways. An occasional one of the strugglers will turn out to be ugly or mentally ill human beings and that’s hard. As teachers we need to love their babies an extra dose and believe in their strengths. That’s all we can do and sometimes it’s enough.
Kids learn the most by leaving them alone. Make the books (wonderful, lots of genres, all levels, etc.), rocks, papers, pencils, bugs, puzzles, pictures available in abundance and then leave them alone. Be available to answer questions. Set an example of reading, writing, measuring, being kind, but don’t drill it into them, just be sure you have comfy places for them to educate themselves and THEY WILL.
Let them be bored. Let them figure out what they love most and focus on that. It will take time and probably some frustration, but it is very necessary for your children to figure out who they are and what speaks to his/her heart. If your child hates math, then do the bare minimum with him/her. I’ve yet to use 3 1/2 of the 4 years of math I did in high school and I’m mostly pissed off when I think about it because I sucked at math – except algebra – and it lowered my whole gpa for high school. I took math every year because someone told me that I would HAVE to take it in college no matter what my major was, so I needed to be prepared.
-WRONG! I did NOT take ONE math class all through college and I graduated with honors from the University of Michigan and have never felt like I’ve lacked without college calculus or any of that other nonsense. (p.s. I do not mean that math is nonsense in general. I just HATE it and I suck at most of it, so, for me, it is nonsense).
The most important thing is to teach and model a love for learning, not the actual learning. If we take away the drive, the passion by drill & kill or nagging, then we’ve destroyed the beauty of the whole lifelong process of learning. If, on the other hand, we fertilize their natural love for learning, we have given them a gift that no one can ever take away. Our students will grow exponentially in this environment and they will carry it all with them into their futures. I loved being a high school reading and writing teacher. I had great rapport with my students. I truly loved each and every one of them. I think most of them could feel that. I wanted them to learn, but more than that, I wanted them to LOVE to learn and figure out what they were made for so that they could pursue that path with passion. Since homeschooling my own children I have come to believe this even more deeply.
Many of our students are dealing with more than we can imagine. They have stuff going on at home that we would be heartbroken by. They need us to not try to stuff them into the proverbial box. We need to allow them to feel safe and encouraged in our classrooms. They need to feel treasured by us, so that they figure out who they are, what they love and then soar. The relationship is the key to this whole process.
I returned to public school teaching 7 years ago and I fell madly in-love with my students. I was older and much wiser than I was in my early years of teaching. I loved my students’ parents and almost all of them loved me back. My students excelled every year beyond my wildest dreams. I was fortunate to teach with my husband until last year. We made a great team and I’m very thankful that we were able to team teach for 3 1/2 years together. In recent years, the testing and focus on teacher “improvement” has become so time-consuming, that it has taken much of the joy out of teaching for a multitude of really great teachers. Personally, I have been waiting for things to get better for the past 4 years and instead, it just keeps getting worse.
Teachers should be treated with respect – with bonus points for years of experience and their record, which should be based on relationships and improvement, not one set score comparing all students of mixed abilities, varied backgrounds, ethnicity, socio-economic situations, etc. When a teacher, who has nothing to gain by speaking up, reports that his/her student is really struggling with reading, has scabies for 6 months, defecates in his/her pants daily, or stutters regularly, then something should be done BEFORE the teacher is required to document this for 6 weeks with no mistakes or the process will have to start all over. If a teacher says there is a problem, odds are, THERE IS! Trust the teacher who isn’t there for the money (OBVIOUSLY) and only wants the best for his/her treasured students. Do something right away and perhaps, when we meet our students’ needs right away, the test scores that the powers that be put so much stock in, might just improve. Maybe if our students are getting extra help for academics when needed and/or therapy for physical struggles, getting medical help so that they aren’t scratching themselves raw (instead of worrying about if the parents will sue the school), or emotional help for accidents instead of being shamed for their cry for help, just maybe everyone would be more successful and feel valued and respected. Unfortunately, it seems this all costs money and our students and teachers are not worth the investment all of that would entail.
So, I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to figure out what to do. I believe teaching is a serious responsibility, not to be taken lightly. I worked all year to reconcile what I believe deep in my gut with what I was being asked to do and I realized I just couldn’t do it in good conscious. I believe if you are a teacher you have to be all in. You have one year with each of those blessings and it is your job to prepare them for the future, but how does one do that when every minute of every day is micro-managed? How do you model independent thinking when you aren’t allowed to think or teach independently?! I didn’t have it in me anymore. I couldn’t compromise my own belief system another year.
So, I resigned.
Honestly, I was terrified to give up my family’s health insurance that nearly 1/2 of my paycheck went to each pay, as well as what was left of my paycheck and the security of being in the same school system where I adore my students, my parents, my co-workers (especially my amazing team) and I am known and I have a good reputation.
I have moments of complete terror, but they only last seconds. It’s clear to me that He asked me to step out of what He gave me such unrest with, so I know He’s with me and we’ll be okay.
I understand that some people think I am out of my mind, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been and feel like I’m in His perfect will and not my fearful will (for a change). Faith is a beautiful thing, but it isn’t cheap…