Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Homeschooling Journey...Learning to Listen When God Calls

Grab a cup of hot tea (I prefer Earl, sink into a comfy chair, and join me as I relate to you the story of our homeschooling journey...

Once upon a time there was a little boy who was very loved. In fact, he was so loved, he was almost spoiled. He had a mommy who thought he was the cutest, smartest thing ever made, a daddy who wanted to teach him how to fix cars and bought him a best friend, a dog named Gabby, and a Poppy and Nanny who doted on his every word, deed, and thought. He was a brilliant and contented child, even though Mommy had to go to school or work and Daddy was on a submarine. This was largely due to the fact that his loving Poppy (who was a university professor) scheduled his classes so he could devoted several days a week to just being his best buddy. Then that thing that happens whether we want it to or not happened...the sweet little boy grew up and got to be the enormously mature age of five years old and had to be enrolled in public school. Sigh. End of fairy tale. Beginning of nightmare.

When Bubba was in Kindergarten, I was teaching my first year of eighth-grade English at a middle school in a rural county. Each day he would ride to school with me, then he would take a bus over to his elementary school before my school day started. He'd arrive back at the middle school in the afternoon, just as the bigger kids were leaving, and several of the girls on a late bus thought he was cute and would play games with him. The science teacher was a friend of mine, and she had numerous (icky) creatures in her room, and he would sometimes spend an hour drawing them or helping her feed them, or even cleaning up after them while I graded papers or met with parents.

His Kindergarten teacher wasn't our favorite (she gave really strange prizes for achievements, like old filmstrips, empty boxes, and dried up markers), and it seemed like she didn't really appreciate that boys are different from girls (they like to be active, not sit in perfect rows quietly all the time), but since I had no option but to work, and teaching is what I had trained for, it worked for us at that time. Bubba learned to read at school, but he learned to love to read on the laps of me and his grandparents (poor hubby was deployed overseas at that time). We spent time talking in the car each morning, weekends were carefree (except for the endless papers I had to grade), and he was generally happy and eager to learn.

Fast forward to first grade and you will find that we moved to West Virginia for recruiting duty. Hubby took the job that was less likely to boost his Navy career in the hopes that he'd be home more often. I was expecting baby number two in October and had been on bed rest half of the summer due to preterm labor that started just a month after we moved into a new house far away from family support...labor that probably started because I was working too hard trying to settle us in before the baby came; alone because Hubby was rarely home to help.

By the time school started, I had another month to go before they would let me resume my normal activities, and keeping up with Bubba's assignments was difficult. My parents spent part of the summer with us helping, but they had jobs, too (both were teachers). Hubby's job was so much more time consuming than he imagined (he regularly had to drive new recruits six hours each way for processing), and there was tension at home, especially after the birth of Tex, which for some reason triggered a series of migraines I am contending with to this day.

I tried to explain the stressful situation to Bubba's teacher confidentially (so she would understand if he was a bit distracted or turned in an assignment a bit late) and found out that not only was she unsympathetic ("If he was working at a job, he'd be fired if he was late, so I am going to give him a bad grade so he will learn a lesson"), but she also decided tell everyone she worked with about our situation ("Well, they needed to know, too"). I was horrified and hurt. Why couldn't they just understand that I was doing my best, and so was Bubba, and if something got missed, it was not intentional? Couldn't someone just care enough to be kind? And whatever happened to confidentiality, anyway?

I was relieved that there would be a new year and a new teacher for second grade, and so was Bubba. He did fine academically as a First Grader, but his brilliance (obvious to me, his dad, and his grandparents---wink) is unappreciated. He knows so much about Bible and history from his endless hours of listening to Adventures in Odyssey, and is absolutely in LOVE with science and art. We are relieved when we hear that he's gotten the kids' favorite teacher in the school and have hopes that this year will be his best year yet. Bubba was excited when he walked into that small, community school the first day of second grade. The school was known for making the BEST breakfast cinnamon rolls for all of the kids, and actually encouraged parents and pastors to join students for lunch. They appreciated parent involvement and I was active on the PTO.  I can remember how he couldn't wait to tell the teacher he'd been looking forward to since the previous year what he did all summer, and he was absolutely thrilled that he'd finally be one of the privileged ones who got to use her huge reading loft...all the kids loved that thing...only to find that over the summer, enrollment numbers changed enough that the fourth-graders needed another room, but the two classes of second graders had small enough numbers that they could reasonably share the largest room.

It sounded like it could still be all right, until you found out that since the number of students was a bit over thirty, and they didn't want to have to fire a teacher, they decided to put BOTH second grade teachers teaming in the one room...and the two teachers did not particularly like each other. Aaaagh. So began a year-long power struggle, with the kids in the middle. There were good moments, nice teaching a drawing class, Boy Scout events, cupcake birthday parties, the Harvest Parade, achievement awards ceremonies...but there were arguments and tense moments, too. Oh, and remember how I said Bubba loved science and art? Well, guess which subjects got dumped that year due to a need to hone up on the three R's for upcoming standardized testing? That's why I volunteered to teach an art lesson or two. In spite of all of our efforts to please, and to figure out how to fit in while getting a little bit of what we needed, the one thing all the teachers seemed to agree upon was that even though I had a teaching degree and was the parent of my own child (and therefore knew my child better than they did), I knew nothing.

Third Grade. You'd think we'd have learned by now, but honestly, the only homeschoolers we'd met at this point seemed, well, a bit weird. I understand where they were coming from NOW, but back then, they seemed overly spiritual (like "in your face, you'd better pray to be released from your sins or go to hell, fire and brimstone, and don't let your kids near mine because they might negatively influence them" sorts...not Christian love, grace, understanding, or help...and by the way, I was saved, my kids were good, and I think we were pretty nice people back then).

Hubby and I were struggling, though. He had been on the road with recruits almost the whole time we were in WV...never home to attend parent-teacher conferences or extra-curricular events, so the brunt of the school conflicts had fallen on me. We discovered we had been taken off of recruiting duty early to fill a need in the submarine service, and were told he was being sent out to sea in about a month. My plans for grad school were put on hold (I had to give up a fellowship and a new job with social services) so I could get us ready for the move. I had ONE trip to our new location to find a house and was desperate to find something in a GOOD school district. I guess I knew that homeschooling was there at this point, but I seriously thought only extreme people did it. Besides, I had my plans to finish my second year of grad school and get into counseling or social work. I wanted to help people, especially kids.

So we found a house near a Blue Ribbon elementary school (that means they won a special national award for excellence in achievement as a school), and we were assigned the "best" teacher for third grade. Really, she'd won Teacher of the Year from WalMart or some such big corporation for the entire district. It was a big deal. We proceded to have the WORST possible year EVER. Hubby was out to sea for ten months, meaning I dealt with everything alone. Being on a submarine (back then, at least) meant I rarely even got an email (though I sent hundreds to him...I'll bet I took up half the space on their server with my letters!). Bubba was NOT happy. He did not like the kids or our new house. The house we could afford was not in the prime part of town (since we wanted me to be able to be home for the kids), and the kids were more city dwellers than country cousins. He did not feel safe or feel as if he fit in (no matter how many extra-curricular activities and get-togethers we participated in). Not to mention the fact that he heard words from songs on the bus ride to school that I hadn't heard until I was in college...and he only had a ten minute ride.

That "best" teacher only read ONE book with the class all year, relying on the Accelerated Reader program (a series of computerized tests on leveled books) to determine the student's reading grade. She absolutely did not like hearing anyone's input about her teaching methods, or about a student's needs...especially from a parent. She did not even want help (I volunteered at the library instead). It seemed that she really did not like my son, even though he scored a perfect score on the yearly standardized tests, genuinely liked learning, and was reasonably well-behaved (well, mostly...a bit talkative, maybe, but you would be, too, if they took away every recess to drill for standardized tests). I still don't understand why she took a dislike to him. Maybe it was me, but I don't think so. It was definitely her problem. Sadly, during this rough period, Bubba went from the happy kid who loved to read and learn new things to the dejected kid who didn't want to get up in the morning and face the kids at the bus stop. 

Worst of all was the dreaded Multiplication Mountain of Doom. The kids were required to take a 100 question test every day on the multiplication facts. They had a certain amount of time (ten minutes, I think) to complete the page. When they got an 80 percent, she moved them up the mountain. A ninety percent and you went up more. Finally, when you got a one hundred percent, she moved your name to the top of the mountain and made a big deal about it. I remember very clearly the day Bubba came home extremely distraught and said that everyone, even the kids who were taken out for special ed (nothing against special needs kids...he was just saying how he felt at the time) had made it to the top of the Multiplication Mountain and he was the only student not there...and that lousy, messed up teacher had made a big deal not only out of the last girl's achievement (which I thought was fine), but of saying that now Bubba would have to work harder to finally get to the top. Well, he never made it. He missed a different problem every time. He was just completely psyched out by the whole process. Meetings with the teacher, with the principal, to find a way to get her to acknowledge his strengths (like those perfect scores on the standardized tests, or his expansive knowledge of and enthusiasm for history, which she found annoying) were fruitless.

About half way through the year, after watching him dejectedly trudge home off of the bus to go straight up to his room and struggle with assignments he found somewhat (okay, a lot) boring day after day (since the teacher used his less-than-stellar performance on the tedious Accelerated Reader tests to judge him less of a reader than my James Herriot-loving son was, not to mention the problems with how he now felt like he was stupid at ALL math just because he missed one out of a hundred problems on her silly drills), I finally figured out that we were supposed to homeschool Bubba the next school year. God had shaken me up enough to get my attention...and to get my focus off of my own desire for a Master's degree, and back on my son's need for his mom to find a way to make school less of a nightmare for him. Hubby was gone, but with his support (he wasn't convicted, like I was, but he was open to the idea) I started looking into the process and signed up to attend an A Beka demonstration. That demonstration, and a small local convention, got me pretty excited about the idea of home education...and less intimidated by it.

If you'd asked me if I'd ever consider homeschooling the year before, I'd have said a resounding NO. I was convinced of several things back then. One: that I could NOT teach my strong-willed child even though I am a trained teacher (and I did not want to...I feared the two of us trying to work together would drive both of us crazy) and Two: that I was not willing to give up my dream of being a counselor or social worker (because, after all, I felt called to help kids, right?).

Yet, by the grace of God (and the experiences I now realize he allowed us to face due to my stubbornness), by the end of that miserable year I knew I had a calling to homeschool my kids and I was enthusiastic about it. Oddly enough, my desire to continue my own education was fading. The Lord was refocusing my calling from wanting to help other kids to wanting to help my own. I still feel that maybe someday we will adopt, or "officially" work with children in some capacity for which my training might be useful, but for now I am content to be at home, teaching and raising my own precious children. At this point, I was still terrified of teaching my own kid, though...of somehow messing him up...however, I guess I finally figured out that I couldn't do worse than the public schools were doing!

I am very grateful that God persisted in His determination to show me that I was to home educate my children. It took four pretty crummy years with the weirdest, most unlikely situations to convict me, but finally I stopped being stupid, gave up, and got on board. I am just sorry that once I realized that homeschooling was a viable option for us that I did not take Bubba out of school immediately (around Christmas break). I mistakenly thought that by making him stick it out I would be teaching him perseverance in the face of difficulty. If I had just taken him out for his own good, I could have shown him instead that I loved him more than any silly school's rules and requirements.

Our summer passed quickly, and attending the state homeschooling convention for the first time got me excited...even if Bubba was still uncertain about the whole idea. However, the relief of not having to go back to that school was almost perceptible from the first day of summer vacation...or from his last day of public school EVER. Homeschooling was not an instant fix for us. It took us a LONG time to repair the damage from those years of difficulty, especially that last year of "math failure." To this day, my brilliant son feels he is less than stellar with math, even though he gets it just fine. It's not his top performing area (that would be history...he knows more than I do by about three people's worth). Shadows of the "math mountain" are there when we discuss what class he might take next semester in college (which he pays for himself, since he owns his own business and even has his own accountant...that's more than I can say!). Just yesterday he told me there was no way he'd take a class that had any math class as a pre-requisite. Sigh. I am so sorry I did not take him out sooner. HE needed it. Some kids don't. Please be wise enough to know if your child is one of the ones who need to be at home with YOU as their primary influence and teacher. 

I know that not everyone can realistically homeschool. Some moms have to work to pay for the rent and the food their family eats. Some moms have burdens that prevent them from being able to homeschool, such as health problems that limit their activities, a commitment to care for aging parents or a disabled child that requires their attention, and there is a whole slew of other impossible situations I can't imagine. But there are some moms out there, like I was, who are not homeschooling their kids because they think they can't. They think it is too hard. They believe they will mess their kids up, or not give them something they need, or fail in innumerable other ways. They are wrong.

To those moms I say that you must believe that you are the best teacher for your own child...God believes this, too, for it is He who gave you your child in the first place. He has equipped you for this work. If He had not believed you were capable of parenting (which includes training and teaching) this child, he would not have given you that responsibility...and He did give it to you (He made you...and your child!). Think about it: Who do you want to have the most influence on your child's heart? Foolish kids at school? Too-busy teachers? Or you? Who do you want to be the one to shape your child's vision of himself, the shaper of his future? Kids who care more about the world's pleasures than God? Principals with an agenda (high test scores)? Teachers struggling to hold together an overfull classroom? Or even a good teacher who doesn't believe in your God? Or you? Consider carefully, because even things that seem small to us, the parents, like that daily math drill, become HUGE mountains given the wrong circumstances. 

I have repented of my tardiness in coming to the realization that I needed to give over my own desires and do what God desired me to do, and I will tell you with a full heart that I have not regretted the decision even once. Sure, there have been tough days, rough roads, and hard choices...but when you know you are doing what the God of the Universe has told you to do, the way seems just easier enough to get by for that day, and the next, and the next. If you are already homeschooling, then you know what I mean. In the end, we know that God is good, and homeschooling is one way we have of helping our kids learn that truth, too. Thank God we live in a country where we can educate our children at home.

Some other time, I'll tell you about how our first few years of learning how to homeschool went...and I will let you know how that little boy who was loved so very much turned out (he's twenty now) Our Homeschooling Journey...Don't Give Up!

In the meantime, check out my Top Ten Reasons Why Homeschooling Works for Us.

If you are considering homeschooling, you can also check out my post on How to Homeschool for Free (or at least, more inexpensively).

Blessings to you,

1 comment:

brandyb said...

Wow, you sound JUST like me. The Lord and I went back and forth about homeschooling for a few years before I gave in. I was too focused on "my plans" and what I wanted, and not focused enough on what he was telling me. Finally, I let go of my own stubborness, and decided to follow the Lord's leading, and things have been so much better since. I regret not pulling my kids out to homeschool earlier, but I am glad we're doing it now!

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