Monday, October 12, 2009

Don't Give Up The Ship!

What do you do if your homeschooled child doesn't seem to be making progress? In many cases, the student is returned to public school in a panic. I'm convinced that this is the reason many public school teachers take a dim view of homeschooling. The homeschooling failures are all they have been exposed to.

I used to think I must be a gifted teacher. I could set a textbook next to my eldest son and he absorbed the information contained therein practically by osmosis! His brother was also scholarly, and little sister was reading at age three. Ah, yes, this homeschooling business was going to be a breeze!

It turns out I wasn't such a terrific teacher, after all. Wedged between all the glorious successes was big sister. I'm not sure exactly when I noticed her struggling, but at some point I realized she was still sounding out words like "cat" and "dog". It took two years of listening to her read every day before I felt she was reading at grade level. Then I realized she couldn't understand what she read. Another two years of shared reading (where the parent and student take turns reading pages aloud to each other) went a long way toward improving her reading comprehension. Unfortunately, it was then time to tackle her multiplication tables.

I didn't mention it to my daughter, but I considered sending her to public school many times. (See Never Let Them See You Sweat on this blog this coming Wednesday.) Maybe home education wasn't best for this particular child.

As I was deliberating all of the options, I happened to attend a church function where I listened in on the conversation between several moms whose children attended public school. All of them had complaints about their children's progress, and they seemed to be placing a lot of blame on the teacher. It quickly became apparent that this was essentially a teacher-bashing session. I knew from teaching my own children that the teachers could never live up to these parents' expectations, especially when they were responsible for twenty other kids.

I smiled when I heard some of the parents of struggling students say they were thinking about homeschooling. Apparently, when our kids encounter difficulty, we parents feel compelled to do something different. That's when it dawned on me. No teacher, however well-intentioned, would be able to spend the amount of time with my daughter that she required. Somewhere inside, I had known this all along. Why did I keep thinking about sending her to public school?

The answer, I reluctantly admitted to myself, was evident in the way this group of parents was verbally attacking their children's teachers. If she's in public school, and she fails, at least it won't be MY fault.

I was ashamed when I realized there might be more to my motivation for homeschooling than wanting the best for my child. Maybe I felt I had something to prove. It had been pretty easy to pat myself on the back when my other children brought home exemplary test grades.

Witnessing that heated conversation marked the end of my self-doubt. The effort spent on home education wasn't worth it if it only secured bragging rights for myself. I knew my daughter needed the kind of one-on-one tutoring that was not available in a traditional school, and I ceased caring whether she was at grade level or not. We were both doing our best. That's all that mattered.

Middle school is a terrific time for catching up. In contrast with elementary school curriculums, which promise to "introduce" concepts, a middle school scope and sequence is peppered with words like "review" and "expand". Most kids enter seventh and eighth grade at least being able to read and with a basic understanding of the four math operations. What a wonderful opportunity to finally master advanced math concepts, refine writing techniques, and dig deeper into subjects that pique your student's interest. Children seem to mature at a rapid pace at that age, and things that were previously confusing to them often begin to make sense.

The middle school years provided the breathing room necessary for my daughter to blossom. She finished our homeschool high school this year and obtained very comfortable scores on her college entrance exams. She will probably never approach her siblings' abilities as a student, but this isn't a competition. I overheard her tell a friend she was glad she was homeschooled. "I'll bet I would have had to be in special classes and things in regular school," she confessed. "I had opportunities in our home school that I never would have had otherwise, and it was a whole lot better for my self esteem than special classes would have been." Ahhhh, finally . . . something to brag about!

I often suspect that homeschooling my children has taught me more than I've taught my kids. I have learned that lack of immediate success doesn't mean failure! Worthwhile things often take time.

If you need help deciding whether to return your student to public school, or if you are looking for teaching strategies to try, consider discussing it with parents on the Time4Learning Parent Forum.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Kelly, great insights. You brought up some stuff about "fear of failure" that even after 10 years at this, I hadn't really seen for what it was. Awesome post!!!


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