April 6, 2010

Homeschooling as a Career

I home school my son. I have done this voluntarily since he was in 5th grade. I didn't set out to home school him, but I ended up taking on that responsibility. When my son was in 4th grade, he was having all sorts of problems (behavior, academic, social). We had noticed behavior and social problems long before this point, but felt that we were able to control both through discipline and structure. My son was the type of child that thrived in an orderly and structured environment. We learned, the hard way, how routine or lack of one affected him socially. When he was a little child, he had trouble getting along with other children. This is pretty normal for only children, and the usual suggested solution is to provide a lot of social interaction. We did this regularly. Our son attended AWANA mid-week, children's child care for Bible Study, and Sunday School. He also had play dates with other children his age. In general, we felt that we provided him with a lot of stimulation and socialization (not too much, not too little).

The problem was that any socialization seemed to set his behavior off. If the classroom was disorderly or chaotic, our son acted out all the more. If he had a teacher who was very structured, offered consistent routine, and was fairly quiet in his/her manners; then our son did OK. We tried whenever possible to find teachers who were seasoned and offered this type of structured classroom. When we were able to do this, our son fit in. He was able to thrive in the environment, and we simply moderated his other behaviors (like tics and vocalizations when he became nervous or scared). The more willing the teacher was to accommodate our son, the easier it was for these behaviors to subside. The less willing the teacher, the more these things seemed to grow and become a daily challenge.

Somewhere in between 3rd-4th grade, our son began to get into trouble at school. He was suspended (for throwing rocks). He wouldn't listen to the teacher and was often sent to the library to do time out. He was not thriving academically, and was causing a lot of disruption in the classroom. Our son, who was a joy at home, had turned into the kid no teacher wants to have in the classroom.

Our solution, after exhausting every other possibility, was to change schools and look for a smaller class setting. We believed that in doing so our son would have less chaotic class time, more routine, and would be able to function better. While a good thought, in hindsight it proved to be a poor choice. Not only did our son's behavior get worse, but we found that his academic inconsistencies made teaching him a challenge.

The school attempted to provide pull-out resource center use, advanced curriculum, and other opportunities to help our son stay engaged in the classroom. The problem really wasn't the curriculum, but rather once again, the classroom dynamics. Our son had a sweet 4th grade teacher (new, but adorable). He didn't stay in her class but for one month before he was moved to the 5th grade class. His 5th grade teacher was an older man (retirement age). He was very sweet as well (and a Christian), but he was overwhelmed by the total lack of respect given to him by the rest of the 5th grade class. My son left a well-ordered class for a zoo filled with chimpanzees. The teacher did his best to corral them all, but in the end, it proved fruitless.

Our son entered the school with a set of behavior issues (stress-related, anxiety, etc.) and left almost at the point of a nervous breakdown. Through it all, we did everything we could do try and help him, but the school, the teachers, and the other students...well, they just were like gasoline to him. In the end, we made the choice to home school him.

I have to tell you that our decision was riddled with criticism from just about everyone we knew. My home schooling friends from church were not 100% supportive either. They were cautious, I think, because they had no real experience pulling a child from public school. They all had home schooled from the beginning, so they really didn't know what to say or what advice to give.

I was on my own, without much family support. My family simply thought I was crazy. Some said that our son's problems were the result of him being an only child (the solution -- have more children) or were the result of an over-protective parent (meaning me -- I sheltered him too much). The last thing they felt was needed was for me to spend all my time with my child at home. In short, I was for sure damaging him socially, academically, mentally, physically and spiritually.

The funny thing is this: I had felt that the Lord was calling me to home school my son from the beginning. I tried home schooling him when he was 4, but failed to teach him to read. I didn't know then that the problem was the curriculum (LOL!) Had I stuck it out, tried something else, I think I would have home schooled him and all these behaviors and social mishaps would not have happened. My son, while well-behaved at home, would have done just fine with some gentle socialization (eased into it). He would have learned how to deal with other children on his own, in a gentle way. Instead, he was dropped "hot-potato" fashion into the midst of uncertain and chaotic settings.

Once we started home schooling him, we noticed improvement in every area of his life. First of all, the nervous tics and vocalizations stopped. Secondly, his academic inconsistencies diminished (slowly, over time). Thirdly, his social behavior improved to the point where he could play tee ball (and then little league), go to cub scouts, and do day camps and even overnights at friends. He sprouted confidence and learned how to control his behavior better.

The key thing for both of us was routine. I remember thinking this right off, and then remembering back to when our son was little. My son thrived on routine (getting up, eating, nap time, lunch time, play time, bath time, bed time). I had a schedule for him and he followed it to a tee. I wasn't rigid or anything, I just kept him on the schedule. He did fine when he knew what was coming up next. He didn't like having to stop something in the middle, and the more time I gave him to "transition" from one activity to another, seemed to solve all those "volcano-like" emotional explosions.

Transitions, it seems, were the crux of our son's problem. He simply needed to know what was next. In a class setting, only the teacher knows what is next. The children follow her lead. If the teacher gives a clear signal as to what is next, the students do fine. If she waits and then just pops it on them, some of them will freak out. My son was in the latter category. I figured this out when he was a baby and set about to eliminate the upset. I set a routine in order and then followed it. I noticed immediately that my son calmed down and became a sweet, adorable baby. He was content, he smiled, he laughed. Most of all, he went from wake to sleep without any fuss. He simply complied so long as I gave him that consistency he needed.

In home school, I did the same thing. I created a structured routine for us to follow. I made a schedule and we followed it. I basically turned back the clock to when he was Pre-K. I set lunch, and then built school time around it. He knew when he needed to start school, and when he could take a break. It was not happenstance, it was set.

Home schooling has turned into a wonderful experience for both of us and our son has thrived at home. He no longer has any behavior problems, absolutely no social issues, and is academically far above his peers. He is a wonderful young man, loves the Lord, is leading worship at church, volunteers to work with kids each week, and generally, has a very peaceful and contented spirit. For us, home schooling worked.

Now, we are almost done with this journey, and we are contemplating what to do next. We have one more year of home schooling, but due to my situation (our family dynamics), I really don't know what is to come of tomorrow. My plans were to finish home schooling next year and then send him off to the Junior College to begin some college courses. Now, I am unsure if that will actually happen. I may have to consider a public school for his last year, though that is not what I really want to do.

As I face my future, I am also having to face my son's future. You see, because we home school, our futures are tied together. I cannot quit home schooling without impacting his life. I cannot just choose to put him back in school either. There are hoops to hop through, challenges in getting the school to accept his credits, and lots of uncertainty. Yes, whatever I decide to do will impact him.

Normally, this would not be a big issue. Many parents face the same choices -- some due to a husband's relocation for work, some due to illness or death or other life-changing event. The problem is not the shake up or the change in plans, but rather the timing of it all. Had this happened in 9th or 10th grade, not much would have mattered. The problem is that I am having to make this change now -- between 11-12th grades. My son is so close to graduating right now. He could go to the Junior College and then onto music college without much effort. Sounds good, right? It does on face value, but on deeper inspection it is fraught with trial. My son doesn't drive yet, and with me seeking full-time work, he will need a way to get to the JC each day. There is bus transportation, but this will take him over an hour one way. His grandparents could take him, but then I am asking them to change their routine and life to do this. If I were at home still, even working from home, I could take him and pick him up. It would work fine if this were the case. Unfortunately, given that I will more than likely end up single, I can only think of myself.

Yet, I cannot easily cast off home schooling, as if it were some heavy overcoat. You see, this has been my life. I have poured myself into it, given it 110% and treated it as though it WAS MY JOB. It was my CAREER. I wasn't casual about it, oh my no! I have studied and read up on teaching methodologies, even considered post-graduate studies in Educational Psychology. I took my role as teacher as serious as if I had been hired by the local public school. I kept a teacher book, weekly lesson plans, and curriculum outlines -- all hand made because I didn't use a prepared curriculum. I developed curriculum for myself and for others. I have several people who use my curriculum now (for writing and history). I have devoted my time to teaching my son at home, and through it and because of it, I have also ministered and taught other Mothers (mentoring them through my website, curriculum and other encouragement).

In essence, I have worked for the last six years as a teacher. I have not been paid. I have not received any material benefit from it, but I have done the work of a high school teacher, nonetheless. I think this is why criticism of my teaching experience as well as my actual teaching method hurts me so much. I still get the questions about how and why I do things -- as if they would ask the same thing of a public or private school teacher (no way!) My ways are under the microscope, are scrutinized, even though I dare say that I have done the equivalent of a college course in educational methods as well as studied to be able to teacher higher level math and science courses (I am an English/History teacher).

So why cannot I not give this thing up? Why can't I just walk away from it? Two reasons, really. The first and foremost is that I was called to home school my son. It was the calling I received when he was 4-5 years of age, a calling I rejected initially, but later took up and received. Secondly, I have invested thousands of hours in study and research just to be able to teach my son well.

The calling thing is a big issue for me. If the Lord calls you to do something, you do it. You do not stop until He says for you to stop. You do it until the job is done or the Lord decides you are done. You don't take it upon yourself to do it any other way. Over the course of my life, I have missed several callings of the Lord. I have misread His sign, and followed after my own way. I have paid the consequences for such action -- I have missed blessing and missed opportunity -- simply because I chose to go my own way.

One of these callings came to me when I was first a Christian. I received this calling when I was 18 years of age. I had been set to attend the local University, and was planning on studying Art. I was a gifted artist and really wanted to learn how to paint better. I was being encouraged by teachers to pursue fine art. My heart was not leading me this way, I was simply following the first encouragement I received (outside that of my parents). I "thought" I was supposed to be an artist. I found out right away that I didn't like some parts of the art world (especially the nudity). I learned that it was a mistake to follow this path.

As I sought the Lord on this matter, He began to direct me away from art and into teaching. He wanted me to switch schools and go to a small Baptist college in my town. They only had two degrees at that time: education and ministry. I felt His hand on me, pressing down and moving me (turning me) away from art and towards Christian education. I even talked with the local school reps, found out what was required to change my major, and picked up the flyers. I told my parents who immediately said NO. It wasn't that they were particularly against going to this school, it was more that this had been the fifth or sixth discussion about changing my focus. I went from Audiology to Art History to Psychology to Pathology and now wanted to go into teaching. All of those other things were passing interests -- none were what the Lord wanted for me.

I knew that He wanted this from me. I knew that it was the way I was supposed to go, but my parents were adamant. I was to finish my AA Degree at the Junior College before I did anything. Their reasoning was this: why can't you study teaching at the Junior College. Why do you have to go to a private school. Truthfully, I don't know why the Lord wanted me to go to this school, but perhaps it was for the social setting (very conservative) or the supportive influence. Perhaps He has some people in mind, people who would help me find myself in the Light of His Word. Perhaps it was to move me away from some people who were negatively influencing me and send me to a place where I could put down very deep "faith roots." Perhaps it was all the above, I don't know. I just know that I did what my parents wanted and felt horrible about it.

I hated the following year of my life. I was miserable, loathing my decision, and knowing that I was to do something different. I satisfied my hurt by getting involved in a relationship I was not supposed to enter into, and by doing some pretty awful things (losing my purity) as a result. I tried to cover my sin with more sin. I tried to make everything right, when everything was clearly wrong, wrong, wrong.

As I sunk deeper and deeper into my sin, I realized what I need to do. I needed to get out, and quick. I needed to go to the Lord, confess my sin, and ask Him to forgive me and restore me to His way, His path, His plan for my life. Oh, how I wish I would have done that...but I didn't.

Instead, I married and set about on a path clearly not of the Lord's choosing. I didn't finish school until six years later, and then through a different major degree. Teaching has been a part of my life even as I graduated from San Jose State University, I planned on become a teacher. I was set for graduate study, to become a Professor of English. I got pregnant and put those plans on hold. I took up the banner of motherhood, and began my life as full-time, stay at home Mom.

Now you know the whole story, the circle of my life. I started this path called to teach. I ended up this path, teaching my son at home. I am planning on graduate school, to finish the program and become a college English teacher. Somehow it is all working out, even though I didn't do what the Lord wanted initially. He has Graciously provided a way for me to do His will -- after the fact, after some 28 years of misdirection and willful stubbornness.

I never expected to end up here, not now, at least. I never expected anything other than to be a Mom. However, I am now faced with the next 40-50 years of my life, and I have choices to make. I am determined this time to not miss His calling to me. This time, I will do what He wants, when He wants it. I will not go my own way (learned that lesson the hard way). I will go His way, and do it all His way. His way is the only way of Peace and Calmness and Happiness (Joy).

Dear Lord,

Convince and convict me of any thoughts that stray from your precise will. I am determined to follow you, to accept your calling, and to do the work you have for me to do. I will not be deterred, to move off the mark, and I will stick to you like glue. Please help me to know exactly what I am to do, so that when I face criticism (like now), I can say with confidence: This IS THE LORD'S WILL FOR MY LIFE. I pray this now in Jesus' name. Amen.

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