Friday, July 2, 2010

Starting Out

I started homeschooling about two and a half years ago. My son had been enrolled in a brick-and-mortar kindergarten, and gotten top marks and an almost embarrassing load of compliments about his brains and behavior for the first six months of kindergarten. Then he got quiet.

After a few weeks of uncharacteristic quietness, he started being sent home from school on an almost daily basis. After a few weeks, I started going to his school in the afternoons to shadow him, in hopes of seeing his problems in action, so I could attempt to correct them.

In the meantime, my daughter had spent the first half of the second grade in tears. She’s small for her age, and very bright. In previous years, her size hadn’t mattered and she’d had plenty of friends in her classes. This year, for the first time ever, she was being picked on. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go from having lots of friends to being the kind of child that only the smelly kid will talk to, but it didn’t look fun. It also wasn’t helping her learn.

What I saw when I shadowed my son was fairly appalling. In my son’s classroom, twenty-four students battled for the attention of their friends. (They didn’t care to have the attention of their teacher.) Two of them weren’t what I would call potty-trained, and some of them wore the same clothes for three days in a row. One special needs student threw daily hour-long tantrums, which required the complete attention of the single adult in the classroom. My son sat in the middle of this circus, attempting to finish a worksheet better suited to a pre-K classroom. After twenty minutes of chaos, he gave up and walked across the room to sit with his friends. I sat in a corner and was sick to my stomach.

After watching these scenes play out, I gave up. It was too much like a Lifetime movie, with an exaggerated idea of a lower-income class just waiting for Michelle Pfeifer to show up and give the students just the right mix of love and discipline. Except that it was a classroom of real, live six-year-olds and my son was one of them. I disenrolled my son, and told my daughter to hold on for the last three months of school. She reluctantly agreed.

I started out a bit frantically. First, I tried to assemble a complete, but inexpensive curriculum while consuming a libraries worth of books on the philosophy of homeschooling. Each one assured me that their way was the best way, really the only way, although of course it was up to each family to choose. In the meantime, I was giving Micheal simple worksheets from books garnered from the local dollar store, with writing samples and basic arithmetic and other fundamentals, just to see what he knew.

On top of that, I was still working part-time in a job that I loved, and paying for child care for Micheal and my younger son, Isaiah. And it turned out that the small town I loved was not the hotbed of homeschooling, like the city I'd grown up in. There would be no fantastic co-op, where I could teach a small group of happy seven-year-olds about history, and send my kids to someone else for math. I had always wanted to homeschool, but I'd never imagined doing it alone. I was a mess.

Then my husband got a job offer for a temporary position, paying almost twice what we were making. On the same day, my youngest son bit another child and was kicked out of his day care under some sort of zero tolerance policy that had been unheard of until now. It was fate. I quit my job, took my boys home, and started over. It was not an auspicious beginning.

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