In the fall, my elementary school hosted our annual Curriculum Night presentation. Because I am now part of a job-sharing team, there were two of us in our class on this particular evening. We both shared our education, experience and philosophies about providing a safe and enriching environment where children can learn and grow.
After the presentation, one of the parents pulled me aside and asked why I had decided to work only one day a week after having my own classroom for so many years. I told her that in addition to teaching in the classroom on Fridays, I was homeschooling my own child the rest of the week.
Before the parent could respond, another parent nearby asked if there was a secret that they should know when a classroom teacher decides to homeschool their own children. I thought momentarily about my response to this somewhat personal question, and then I explained that all children are unique. The experience in a large school works well for most children, but for my son, at this moment, homeschooling is a better option.
Yes, it was a bit awkward. But when I reflected on the conversation late that evening on my drive home, I certainly understood their curiosity and realized that it must be surprising to learn that a classroom teacher had chosen homeschooling over the public school system in which they worked. And it was not the first time that I had been asked about being a public school teacher and a homeschooling parent.
The same question had come up on more than one occasion during family phone calls, lunches with colleagues and dinners with friends. In the beginning, when I shared my family's decision to homeschool, it felt strange. I felt as though I was being deceitful or a traitor to my profession. It wasn't long before I realized that all parents do what they hope and believe will be best for their children, even if it isn't always what is expected.
What were some of the reasons that this public school teacher decided to homeschool?
Since home-schooling, we've been able to take our learning outside, talk with experts and explore new interests through field trips and library visits.
First, the sensory issues that my son faced on a daily basis were exhausting for him. The smells that filled the cafeteria, the crowded hallways, the loud instruments during music, the squeak of 27 children running through the gym simultaneously and the constant humming of fluorescent lighting were too great. We tried to accommodate for all of these environmental stressors, and the school offered suggestions, but the overwhelming sensory input was too much of a distraction. Although many other students can learn in this same setting, mine could not tolerate the overstimulation that attacked his body throughout the day.
Second, my son's learning needs were not being met in his overcrowded classroom. I know that the job of a teacher is never ending, involves constant juggling and flexibility on the fly — but importance must be placed on meeting the academic needs of each individual student. My son was being asked to do more work, but not necessarily higher-level work. He was given books that he had already read and assignments that he could complete without any instruction. As a result, he became increasingly off-task, unmotivated and quickly found ways to wind up in the principal's office reading or drawing. This same situation could also be a problem for students who are struggling, needing more teacher time for individual needs that just isn't available in a full school system.
Third, as a highly introverted child, school became increasingly difficult for my son. This involved social avoidance, which made learning in a group setting almost impossible. While the work was easy, friendship issues and embarrassment about being asked questions created school anxiety that was hard to address. It became a vicious circle because he wouldn't want to return the next day if an embarrassing situation took place the previous day.
Fourth, throughout the long day, there was not much that focused on his strengths or interests. Since homeschooling, we've been able to take our learning outside, talk with experts and explore new interests through field trips and library visits. Although this is often considered a "gifted student" issue, I believe that it should be addressed in the general population.
Fifth, because it is my profession, I knew how to teach my son. As an experienced teacher, I know the content to cover, I am used to finding the needed resources, and I'm capable of adjusting my daily pacing to provide my child with enough challenge but without pushing him beyond his capabilities. We are now able to get more work completed in a shorter time,and have opportunities for swimming classes or other activities that are hard to fit in during the busy evenings and weekends. Our learning and home education is fluid, and lessons happen throughout the week, in the evenings after dinner, and can also be adjusted to fit our family needs, not a calendar.
There are additional reasons why our family made this decision, and there is no regret.
Since we began homeschooling over a year ago, I have discovered that the reasons why people choose homeschooling are as varied as the many approaches that families use. Some are committed to online schools, others participate in co-ops, and many use an unschooling approach that is primarily driven by student interests. There are families that are motivated by religious beliefs, and others that feel that it allows them flexibility for traveling. Some shorten the hours for academic schooling so that there are more hours to address athletic, musical or other artistic gifts each day.
As with other parenting topics, homeschooling often draws judgment and criticism; some homeschooling families that I have met have experienced criticism from family or even other homeschooling parents. But these parents are firm in their beliefs that this is best for their family. Personally, I continue to be a proud, veteran teacher and I believe in the work that teachers do; however, some students need more attention, feedback, flexibility and accommodations. I believe that this experience has not only helped me evolve into a better classroom teacher, it has also made me a more understanding person. What a wonderful education.