The Best of Both Schools: Homeschool & Public School Together At Last

I wrote a Facebook status last week about my kids’ education and the response was SO positive that it inspired me to share a little bit about my philosophy (my “pedagogy” if you will).  Here’s the FB post, just to get you up to speed.

Teacher friends, don’t hate me for this because I love you and think you are all heroes. You’re all doing such an amazing job.

This is for my friends who find themselves discouraged by the work of helping their kids in school.

I realized today in looking at my kids’ report cards that I have reinforced a fairly lazy attitude toward their academic performance. Basically, I praise successes and ignore a lot of problems. If they are happy with their grades and feel they tried, so am I.

At this point, I just want them to love reading and not hate school.

As has happened at several points in their academic careers, today one of my children received a note advising of the need to improve in a certain area or risk “falling below grade level.” While I certainly take all notes like this under advisement, I have pretty much decided that until middle school, my priority for their academics is simple:

I just want them to love reading and not hate school. That’s all.

Please don’t judge, but I don’t even care if they do all their homework. (My son tested this out by lying to me for months about his. ;/)

Having spent a decent amount of time volunteering, I am impressed with how hard they work at school. At the end of the elementary school day, I’m exhausted and I’m pretty sure they are too. Teachers and students are under immense pressure to perform, meet standards, and achieve or surpass goals. They have to MAKE EVERY MINUTE COUNT and they sure do. Teachers have to send me that warning letter if my kid’s work isn’t up to snuff–even if they know my kid is actually fine, or will be, with absolutely nothing more than the passage of time.

It’s just hard for me to care when my kids blow off math worksheets to run around the backyard collecting ingredients for potions to kill Voldemort. It’s hard for me to force one to write a reading response when she’s writing a Valentine poem for her Nanna instead. Unless they are flat failing, being below grade level is not a big deal to me. Their little brain development is such a crazy wavy line! What one kid does at 5, another can’t do till 8.

I just want them to love reading and not hate school. I don’t care if they are little geniuses or the best in the class. These may be the only 11 years of their life where their performance can be totally irrelevant; I want to give them that freedom. I want them to think about their behavior, their care of others, their love of life and ideas, but I don’t want them to feel obligated to perform.

At some point each of my kids have struggled with reading, writing, or math (by grade level standards), and certainly could have been pushed to completely deplore the subject entirely by pointing out the weakness and drilling down on it. My response was to ignore it, which so far is working fine. In fact, my apathy proceeded their success. Go figure.

My over-achieving oldest despaired of her B+ in math, but I told her it was fine with me. I said, “If you want to do better and you’re able to, then do. But if you’re happy with that, so am I.”

I just want them to love reading and not hate school. The other stuff can come later. I’m okay with them just being okay.

Shouldn’t elementary school just be the place where you start to love learning, books, and ideas–not where you are taught to perform?

I think so.

 If you’re on Facebook, you can click to the post and read the comments, but I was surprised by how many teacher friends liked and shared this post.  Another reaction that I found interesting reflected a mindset that I’ve often heard in parenting circles.  It basically implies that, when push comes to shove, you have to choose between homeschool and public school.  If you reject one, you embrace the other. Essentially, it says that homeschool and public school are mutually exclusive.

I disagree, but before I explain why, let me tell a little story.

Ten years ago, I worked at a private Christian school. It came to my attention that part of our school mission statement said, “Final authority for what we teach rests with the parent.

I did not like that.

As a teacher, I had experienced unwelcome input from parents who expected me to alter my classroom procedures and schedules to accommodate the parents’ goals or censorship.  Some wanted altered lesson plans on demand.

I resisted. They had enrolled their children in the school and should,  I felt, submit to the policies and curriculum of the school.  They should acknowledge and value my expertise, not undermine it.   I did not like being told that my classroom was being controlled by parents who may or may not have the first idea about how to teach high school English.  However, the school mission statement said that I was wrong; they were in charge.

I give this example because, prior to even having my own children in school, I did not agree with parents having blanket authority over classroom policy. It’s bad.

HOWEVER, in subsequent years, I have realized what I think maybe that statement SHOULD have said, and what I implement as a parent.

Finally authority for what students learn rests with their parents. 

I fully support anyone who chooses and or prefers homeschooling. It is a great option that I’m thrilled people appreciate.  I also respect those who accept the separation of home and school, expecting all the education to happen at school. If you are fine with a hands off approach, that is awesome and probably very freeing.

But if neither of the above scenarios works for you, if school stuff is stressing you out, may I suggest another option? Become a public school parent who homeschools. Here’s how.

Dylan with his favorite teacher, ME!

1.  I am my child’s MAIN TEACHER.

As someone who has made the decision to enroll her children in public school, I defer to the curriculum, schedule, and expertise of the trained professionals at the institution. I support them, encourage them, acknowledge them, and I reinforce their goals.  But I am no lemming. I am my children’s main teacher.

While they are taught many important lessons and information at school by teachers better trained than me, I am the one who decides what is important for my child to know and care about.  Their main school is HOME.  I am the one who teaches my child whether their grades and performance matter, and how much. I am the one who supplements learning, who decides whether to enforce homework, who teaches respect for the teachers, and –if I choose–minimizes the importance of tests. I am the one who governs their spiritual education. For those of us who believe in experiential learning, home and life are the places where all the lessons of school are really put to the test.

Anika and I are at school during the Boosterthon Fun Run fundraiser.
Anika and I are at school during the Boosterthon Fun Run fundraiser.

2. Go to school. A lot.

Parents, we are not powerless to the whims of curriculum or education or government.  Your child’s teacher is not secretly “doing” anything to her.  A mindset of being subjected to a conspiracy of devious policies is ridiculous to me. This isn’t to say that I’m fully supportive, but it’s not the cold war, folks.

If you are in a position where you COULD homeschool, but choose not to, start going into their school and helping or just observing. Go at least once a week.  Spend whole 7 hour days absorbing what is going on at your children’s school.  Pay attention to ways that you can supplement their learning at home without piling suggestions onto a teacher who has 25+ students to deal with. Be aware of how the other students’ needs might be affecting your child. See if the way your child acts at school and at home are different. Figure out why.  Make yourself useful without being intrusive. Advocate without burdening.

You are your child’s individualized education plan. YOU can be the one to do the things that the school isn’t doing to your satisfaction. Just like a homeschool parent who can customize the child’s educational experience, YOU can make decisions about what your child learns.

3. Affirm without undermining.

My husband teaches music at my children’s school and we are lucky to be in a great district that we love. I love their teachers.

But honestly, I don’t love all of it. SO, I accept the part that is good and that works well for us, and for the rest, I don’t.

I think all most some of the testing is dumb and, while I don’t tell my kids to blow it off, I make it clear that we aren’t worried about test scores.  If my kids come home with bad grades or warning letters, we talk about it, but I don’t make it a big deal.  (If they come home with bad behavior, they  better start looking for a room to rent at Nanna’s.)

Addie and Jeremy go to Barrier Island
Jeremy and Addie leave in the early AM for a 3 day school field trip to the Barrier Islands.

When you are feeling weak and guilty and confused about your kids’ education, it sucks.  If you want to take advantage of free public education, consider how to gain confidence and help YOURSELF operate from a place of confidence, knowledge, and affirmation. Decide what knowledge YOU think is important. Affirm that without undermining the other stuff that’s less of a priority to you.  Do family field trips to supplement what school is teaching.  Help with projects that are fun and show how you use learning in everyday life.

For the stuff that you think is dumb–> minimize, ignore, and submit.  If you want kids who can obediently and respectfully work for a boss who gives arbitrary work, this is a good place to practice.  If you want to teach your kids how to make the best of a bad/boring situation, VOILA! This is that class. If you think your kids should learn to overlook flaws and imperfections in their world rather than blowing up about them, model that for them.

I recognize that my situation is unique, having my spouse as a special area teacher at my kids’ school. I might not always feel the way I do now. If my children struggled more, I might have a different mindset.  However, my goal is to simply encourage parents not to feel overwhelmed and insecure because of what you might not agree with or comprehend about your children’s education. Taking charge doesn’t mean storming into the classroom and micromanaging the teacher. It means that final authority for what your kids LEARN rests with you.