Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Homeschooling Novel

TJ and I have decided to homeschool Th beginning next school year (when he enters 2nd grade). This decision has been prayerfully considered for almost a year. Honestly, we never thought we'd put our children in public school, but because of my school schedule, Th was forced to start kindergarten at a public school. I began praying about homeschooling starting this year (2009-1010) but just did not have peace about it. He had such a fabulous year last year and his teacher was so WONDERFUL that it made the decision for him to continue in public school that much easier on us for this school year. However, everything has changed.

The day after I found out the death of Twin A, Th brought a note home from his teacher. In this note, she told me that since the beginning of school he had not done any of his lessons. Just a little background: he attends a Montessori school. It is a great school and I love the philosophy behind Montessori. Basically the children are placed in multi-age classrooms where they are provided with challenging and interesting lessons based on their ability level. If a student excels, he is able to move ahead without having to wait for "the rest of the class" like in a traditional classroom model. On the other hand, if a child struggles in an area, he is able to continue to work on and practice the skills until he reaches mastery without having to be pushed ahead to keep up with "the rest of the class." Because Th has a September birthday, he has always been the oldest in his class and I was concerned about him being bored. He left preschool being able to read some and his teacher picked up where Th was and excelled him. Basically, in a Montessori setting each child is able to reach his or her potential on an individual basis; it doesn't matter what the other kids are doing.

Now, back to the note. Th had not been choosing lessons to work on and only did so whenever he worked with the teacher or the assistant. She said he was constantly drawing on his papers but was otherwise a good student. This type of behavior is totally uncharacteristic of Th. He has always enjoyed school and I could not understand why he was not doing his work. He never had a problem last year. Again, this was the day after I found out about the baby so it was a difficult weekend for all of us. I talked with Th and questioned him about his poor work ethic. He said school was boring and he wanted to do the fun stuff like he did last year. All he got to do was adding and he already knew how to add (I chuckle even now- that was such a funny statement when he said that to me!) I wrote her a note back asking for more explanation (Why did she wait to tell me 6 weeks into the school year that he had not been doing any work? What is he doing if he's not working? How far behind is he? What are the consequences in the classroom for not completing work? What can we do to catch him up?). When he came home from school that Monday, there was no note from her. I was so angry! I immediately emailed her and asked her to call me as soon as possible so we could discuss the situation. Thankfully she phoned that evening and along with providing some more information on the situation, we came up with some ways to motivate Th to do his work. At home I use a visual schedule for the kids to help them complete their chores. I suggested she implement a smaller version on his desk, and for every 2 lessons he completes, he gets a 3-minute break to draw or use the computer. She liked that idea. Since that phone conversation, he has completed at least 6 lessons every day and some days as many as 10.

However, he has had some other behavior issues arise that I honestly believe are directly related to Twin A's death. Again, Th is not a "trouble maker" or one to be aggressive. But, for several weeks in a row, he was bringing notes home detailing aggressive behaviors that included biting the eraser tips (metal and all!) off of pencils and throwing them across the room and sneaking a pair of scissors into the classroom bathroom and cutting his hair in 4 separate places. I promise he has NEVER exhibited this type of behavior before so they were a complete shock to me! Th is the child I trust with having markers, crayons, and scissors unsupervised in the house since he was 3 years old. He has never done anything to make me reconsider that decision as he has always been very responsible with them. If any of my children can't have those types of items unsupervised, it's Ta! :)

I had a conference with his teacher 2 weeks ago. A few days before the conference I emailed her a list of items I wanted to discuss with her during our meeting. At the conference, she showed me some work samples from Th's math notebook. As she randomly flipped through it, I saw where he completed the SAME MATH LESSON at least 5 times! No wonder he's bored and acting out! She openly admitted to me that she does not have time to work with the children to show them new lessons as often as she should. Now, I get it. I know what it's like to have a lot of kids and very little time, but that's why she has an assistant! This is where it gets good: she told me that since she knows she has the first graders again next year (remember, it's a multi-age classroom) she tends to focus her attention on the second graders since they will be moving up. I candidly told her our house was up for sale and we may or many not move out of the current school district. If we move out of district, I needed to know that Th would be able to enter a traditional school and be able to fit in academically. She went to say that Th was ahead of where he should be for his reading ability and he picks up on math concepts quickly. That is reassuring but because of that, he is sort of left to his own devices. I left that conference determined to teach my child what I want him to know, especially since it seems like at this point school is just a code word for free childcare. I am so disappointed in his teacher but I refuse to let Th know that. I will stand behind her as his teacher because, "a house divided will only fall" and I don't want him to ever think that he does not have to obey her or treat her with the respect that she deserves as an adult. Although I do not agree with her teaching style and honestly can't wait to move so that we can switch schools (just to finish out the school year), he does not need to know that. I will continue to be involved in his education while in her classroom and pray that the Lord will intervene in this situation. I have also resolved that more than likely I will need to cover some first grade material next year in order for him to move on, but hopefully not.

She (the teacher) told me that she would make it her goal to work more with Th to introduce new lessons to him so that he could move on (not just in math, in all subjects). TJ and I are going to call another conference after Thanksgiving to see his progress. If no progress has been made, then obviously she has not kept her word and we will have no choice but to go to the principal. TJ wants to go talk to the principal now but I think we at least should allow his teacher an opportunity to carry through on her word. We'll see. Every day we ask Th if he learned a new lesson and so far the answer has been "No." But, sometimes he forgets things and I know he's only 7 so I don't want to completely take his word when there is a possibility he could be wrong. The principal will only laugh at us if we call a meeting and have no evidence; our case will be much stronger if we have time on our side and a lack of progress made.

So, now comes the hard task of choosing a curriculum and deciding upon which accountability group to join. There are several in my area and I have friends in just about all of them. I plan to attend some meetings to see which group we would best fit in with and then go from there. Th knows he is going to be homeschooled next year and is very excited. He has wanted to be homeschooled all along since most of his friends at church are. But, like most life circumstances, he has grown and learned from his time in public school and although there has been some bad, there has also been some good. He's made friends with some people he otherwise would have never met, and neither would I.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." ~Ecclesiastes 3:1