Friday, February 18, 2011

Thinking about School

When I was in third grade, I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I can even now distinctly remember, helping other kids in class, and knowing that I could make a real difference and teach kids important information just like Mother. I remember having one of the worst teachers ever for 6th grade math and going home at night and Daddy teaching me the lesson so that I could do the homework. I remember then spending the next morning helping to explain the problems to other kids in my homeroom class, and feeling as if I was doing something important. I toyed with the idea of going into math or science fields in high school, but I had one special teacher, who inspired me to stick with teaching. Mrs. Reich made the material come alive in a way that only teachers with a real gift can. She wasn’t teaching us what to think but how to think. Some of the only real critical thinking skills we learned in school, I think we learned in that class. I had the chance to help another student in our class, and from us working together she was able to bring up her grades. I wanted to be someone that could mentor and guide children all while imparting important information. I went off to college and knew I wanted to teach high school or maybe college history. I started off taking a few education courses, and thought they were hopelessly duly and not much like the tales that Mother came home with each day about life in a real classroom. So I decided to get a straight history major and then get my education certification in a 5th year program, so that I wouldn’t have to take as many pointless classes. All along I never doubted that I would one day be a teacher or professor and that was want I wanted out of life.

I always imagined having several kids like my parents. I suppose most of us imagine our lives as adult similar to what we knew growing up. I just knew that I wanted to have a large family, and coming from a strong public school family, that my kids would be in public schools. My grandfather taught and was a principal, my mother is still teaching, I have an aunt that is a professor, and several other family members who have been or are substitute teachers. I know there are problems with public schools; I know it better than most. Mother use to tell me to go into anything other than education, that she doesn’t have the parental support that she had when she started and that it gets worse each year. Granddaddy tells tales about how it was, and what he would do if he was principal today. I can see that the landscape has changed. But at my core, I believe in the need for good public schools, a democracy cannot function without an educated, intelligent populace. It is in our nation’s best interest to promote and strengthen education. I know that too much “teaching from the test” is done these days. I knew a teacher in high school that even back then, started each day with the objective written on the board, and explained how this day’s class met a key point in the graduation exam. We all know that standardized testing is not a fool proof way of determining how much a child has or had not learned over the course of the year. When I was in high school they revamped the graduation exam from a 7th grade level to a 10th grade level. We weren’t being tested on a 12th grade level to pass, and even then, we only needed 51% of the answers correct to graduate.

Despite the flaws of a public education, I cannot see how it benefits our country or the other students in the school system to remove our best and brightest students and place them in charter schools, private schools, or homeschools. Rather than working to improve the system, to correct the faults, and ensure that all have a better education, especially those who need it most, we leave them to decline even further. We take away our efforts and we decrease funding. I know that you can’t throw money at a problem and hope to fix it. Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty proved that – the current problems with Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment prove this even now. However, funding does provide books, more teachers for lower student-teacher ratios, more technological resources, and while none of these things guarantees that learning will take place, it does increase the quality of learning that can take place.

In my own idealistic way, I thought one day I would come back to East Lawrence, take Mrs. Reich’s place when she retired and I would teach history for 30 years. I would make a difference. I always pictured life similar to the way that I grew up. My kids would walk to my classroom after school, we would all ride home, and when they needed help and clarification I would do my job as a parent and help them. Each afternoon when we got home we would finish our homework, play outside till supper time, and then eat. After supper my parents would start with the youngest checking our homework, having us fix our mistakes, and explaining things we didn’t understand. That was their job as parents. Daddy always fielded the math and science and Mother handled the English, reading, spelling words that we practiced in the car going to and from school every day. Boy, I hated spelling words. But I still spell together in my head they way she drilled me to-get-her, three separate distinct words. In my mind, the teacher is there to teach and outline material, but it is the parent’s job to be the one ultimately responsible, to care enough about their child to ensure that they get any extra help they need whether they do that themselves or hire tutors. Teachers can’t be expected to impart a child with everything they need to know in life and dispense children’s meds, and deal with behavioral problems since you don’t want Johnny to be paddled at school, and have character education, and any of 1,000 other tasks you might require. Teachers are the most underpaid profession out there, and I support them and the job they do. I never thought I would even consider homeschooling, and even though I am considering it, I don’t know that it’s something that I want to do. I think my children can get just as good of an education from me, as they can from the school system, with me filling a support role in the evenings.

So why am I considering it, if I have such strong feelings. Gary has often said that he feels like for the first 2 or 3 years anyway, that I could do as good of a job if not better than a teacher in teaching our kids. He feels that no one knows them like we do, and no one could provide the same dedicated, loving support that we can. He sees no need to rush them off to school. While he’s probably right, I don’t question my ability to teach them the basics; I’m not sold on the idea, but I am willing to consider it in light of the fact that I have the ability to teach. I don’t believe any and all parents are able to take on teaching their children, but I believe with my background that I could do it, and find those to bridge any gaps if needed.

But why am I considering it right now you ask. I got started thinking about it at Britt’s last doctor’s appointment. They asked how clear was his language? Could others understand him 50% of the time? I don’t really know, but I know we have trouble understanding him sometimes, so I’m sure that others do. Her response was, “I’m not too worried. I don’t think he needs any therapy right now. Most kids that have a stay at home parent catch up when they start preschool at 3.” It got me thinking, why would I want to put my kid in preschool if I’m at home? Why would someone assume that? Not saying that I wouldn’t enjoy the time to myself a couple of days a week, but those things are EXPENSIVE! Besides I’m not sure that I want him gone at 3, that’s way different than starting optional kindergarten at 5. When we talked about possibly delaying some of Ruth’s shots they asked us why, since she would need them anyway to start school. And I suppose it got me thinking, if Gary is right and I am capable, would it be a good option for our family?

I’ve been reading a few different books, “The Homeschooling Option: How to Decide When It’s Right for Your Family” by Lisa Rivero was my starting point. In order to make sense of my thoughts, and to hear thoughts from other families who chose to homeschool or public school their kids, I’m going to share some of my thoughts over the next several weeks on why we like the idea, and why I dislike the idea. Please share your thoughts and experiences.


Anonymous said...

As the mom of one of our "best and brightest", I spent a long time praying and researching and ultimately decided to sign Brooke up in a Charter school. And I thank God everyday for His answered prayers.

I, too, always wanted to teach. And I, too, feel it is ridculous the amount of money pro athletes are paid and my daughter's teachers can barely get by on their salary. It is pathetic.

But I feel the problem does not lie within the school system but within society. As a whole, we are lazy and want "someone" else to do the job. The attitude is, "its the teachers job to teach my kid everything my kid needs to get ahead in life" (including discipline) and on top of that, "you better not hurt my kids feelings or tell me my kid is a behavior problem, cause I will get you fired."

So instead the public school system has had to take their meager fundings and become superteachers. And they have to work so hard with the students that are struggling to help them keep their heads above water.

Had I put Brooke in our public school we are zoned for I am most certain that the following would happen to Brooke. Within a few weeks of starting a new school year the teacher would quickly identify Brooke as a top student who learns quickly and easily and can accomplish tasks with little assistance AND on top of that she is well behaved. Then the remainder of the year, the teacher would push Brooke off into a corner and spend her time with the students who struggled. But, I feel that by putting Brooke in the Charter school, every year I have witnessed (without my asking) each of her teachers taking a special interest in her and providing more challenging work and extra activities that are meant to engage and empower Brooke. And because Brooke can work independently, they still have time to work with the students who are struggling or need extra help.

My comments are not meant to say that you are wrong. But rather to say, as a mother, I looked into every option out there. Homeschool, public school, private school, choice school, magnet school and charter school. And then I prayed about what was best for Brooke and our family and the Lord opened doors. My comments are meant to echo your own sentiments, as you struggle with making a decision about Britt and Ruth's future. We only want what is best for our child and we want our child to succeed and to succeed greater than we did.

Devour all the information you can find. And I will pray that the Lord will open your eyes to the answer that is right for you and your kids!

Sis. Kimberly

Owl of the Desert said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm a product of the AL education system, too, and I can think of very specific teachers I could thank over and over. But, I know even now that the landscape is changing every year. So, I face the same dilema as you. I'll be looking forward to reading along.