The year I had my oldest, Braeden, in fourth grade and my middle child, Shane, in second, things were going quite smoothly. The boys were progressing well in their academics: grammar, math, geography, history, French, Bible, spelling, reading, and piano.
But I had high anxiety—something probably common to homeschooling parents everywhere. Were my children learning enough? Was I adequate to the task at hand?
A homeschool friend of mine had enrolled her children at a classical Christian academy about a half hour’s drive away. She encouraged me to explore this school as a possibility for my boys—not simply because she wanted a car-pool buddy (though I suspect that’s at least partly why). My uncertainty got the best of me, and after consulting the headmaster, a highly educated, forthright Christian teacher, I enrolled the boys in the school’s hybrid program: Monday and Tuesday I would homeschool with the school’s curriculum, and Wednesday through Friday my youngsters would attend the school.
This seemingly perfect solution lasted for eight weeks.
Though I didn’t realize it at the moment, I got my answer, my validation, the day before they began when the headmistress assessed her new pupils. Feeling quite inadequate, I warned her that although Shane excelled in math, he wasn’t fluent in reading. I assumed he would score low because of his halting style. I’d worked hard with him over that previous vacation, and he had made real progress reading aloud. I thought I’d just brought him up to a remedial level, and in my self-critical assessment, he hadn’t improved much since then.
Testing would be a good measure of his standing, and the headmistress of the school was intent on finding out exactly where she should place Shane. She disappeared with little Shane for about twenty minutes as I waited with bated breath for her judgment.
I was nervous. Was I a bad teacher? A bad mother? Suffice it to say my insecurity was full-tilt, or I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Now I was really putting my accomplishments with my children on display, looking for approbation of any sort, expecting.… What was I expecting? Certainly not the results I received.
She returned with Shane. “Well, you’re right about his math. He’s definitely proficient, at least a grade higher than his age, but we can handle that by putting him in the older class. As for his reading….” She paused.
I waited for the boom to come down on my shame.
“Shane’s reading at a fourth-grade level,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
I hesitated over this unexpected good information. “So, I’m the one with the problem?”
“Pretty much,” she smiled.
Tears sprang to my eyes. I wasn’t a lousy teacher, after all. I briefly basked in the sunshine of my success.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that Shane tested as advanced. I had, after all, given him one-on-one instruction with love and affection and lots of praise. It was me who didn’t understand that second graders typically are not fluent when they read aloud. Ah, but it would be a while before I finally did comprehend that my insecurities were my own worst enemy.
I enrolled the boys because I had already concluded that I was inferior, that others were better equipped, more educated, and possessed greater experience with children. I assumed they would engage teachers who were also superior to me, despite the hard evidence of my success.
My low self-confidence had always made decision-making hard for me. I regularly weigh each option and do hours of research. I look at ingredients and labels in the supermarket and do price calculations. When it came to school, my research suggested this school would be an improvement for the boys, and once I made that difficult decision, I had no interest in revisiting it. I took the new information in but adhered to my (now) old conclusion: I had a plan and was sticking to it.
Both boys attended for those first few weeks, and over that time, my aggravation with the system grew. As good a job as the educators there were doing, I realized Shane was no longer at liberty to pursue his mathematics to his heart’s content. Now he was on the treadmill, the speed of which was limited by his class.
For Mondays and Tuesdays at home, the teacher sent work via email or downloadable file. Once, due to some glitch, I couldn’t download the files. The teacher emailed. “Don’t worry about it; it isn’t that important.”
I was disappointed. If she assigned it, why was it suddenly unimportant? Her comment made their homework seem like busywork, something I abhor.
School terms were divided into six-week periods, so after the initial six weeks, I asked to meet with the teachers to discuss the boys’ progress. Insecure again, I needed to ascertain if I was pulling my weight as their teacher for two days each week.
I met with Shane’s teacher first. She immediately focused on how well he behaved in class. She raved about how quiet he was, that she seated the most rambunctious boy next to him in the hopes Shane would exert a calming effect on that little boy, which he did, and how happy she was with the results of her experiment.
I was unimpressed, to say the very least. Shane’s behavior was, in fact, the lowest on my list of concerns. I realized that teachers are, first and foremost, traffic control cops, and so my son was simply good at being herded. “What about his academics?”
“He’s doing fine.”
“Fine” was an unacceptable accolade when I’d seen him love learning at home.
Braeden had started to come home with this oldest-child attitude again, belittling and teasing his younger siblings. The curriculum was not, as I had imagined, tremendously better than mine. And if I had to have one more discussion about the carpool schedule, which was more complicated than the new health care bill, I knew it would be the final straw for my sanity.
I determined to pull them out again and told them. Strangely, the boys took it in stride. They were curious, of course, asking why and listening intently to my explanation—that I didn’t feel like they were getting what I wanted them to glean from a school experience. They both nodded gravely. I think the whole waking up early, making their lunches, organizing books, and the hour minimum travel each day was aggravating them, too. On their last day of school, Shane bounded into the kitchen to announce, “Mommy, I’m so happy today is my last day of school!”
Monday morning, we settled back into our old routine. I pulled out math for Shane, and he immediately complained that he didn’t understand it.
I was mystified. Where did that come from?
Tears poured out his bright blue eyes. “It’s too hard for me.”
“Of course, it isn’t,” I assured him. “You’re brilliant in math.”
He was inconsolable, so I stowed the math and went back to it a few days later, softly, carefully. It took six weeks to undo his apprehension, so he could enjoy math again.
Ultimately, I learned several lessons: I’m not much of a team player when it comes to the education of my children, I’m more like a long-distance runner. I can’t outsource my children’s schooling, and luckily, I don’t need to. I am an effective teacher.
By far, the greatest lesson in all of this is that home education is a love story. It is the parents devoting themselves to the education of their child and pursuing that in excellence however they can. It is that devotion that exhibits the parental love to the child, so the youngster can palpably appreciate that care and learn to respond to it. Homeschool inevitably preserves, protects, and reinforces the parent-child bond.
I finally accepted the validation I was handed that first day. (A friend of mine remarked how beautiful it was that God allowed me to make the “mistake” of enrolling the boys there, so I could learn that I was up to the task.) Our kids’ education is so important and so many little things can affect them at this tender age. I am incredibly happy to know that I can supervise and protect them myself and help them grow into responsible, fearless young adults. That’s enough.
And so am I.