When I was in college, I worked in a small-town ice cream shop. One of my co-workers was a 16 year old girl who was homeschooled–and her five siblings were also homeschooled! They seemed so “normal” (not at all like the images I conjured in my head when hearing the phrase “home schooled”) and their dad was actually our little city’s police chief! I was fascinated with their family and this concept! I decided that once I had children that I would like to try home schooling them! School had been a miserable existence my entire childhood–as a sensitive, introverted person I just never quite fit in. I’d been teased, harassed, molested by fellow students twice, threatened and worse. Part of my issues may have come from the fact that we’d moved so often that I’d attended twelve schools by graduation. There were times I did fit in (I even was a cheerleader–twice!) but more often than not, school was a nightmare.
Fast-forward several years: I’d married my college sweetheart and we’d had our baby girl, K. I “secretly” always hoped to home school her but knew my mother (who was way too inserted in our lives) would be extremely opposed. I shared my wishes with my husband and he was supportive. When it was time to register our daughter for public kindergarten, I nervously told my mother we’d decided to home school. She listed probably a hundred reasons why I shouldn’t, including that I was too young, I was too immature, I was not responsible enough, I didn’t know enough people to make sure she’d have friends, I hadn’t finished college, she’d never get into college if we home schooled, etc.
I was young and I was intimidated–my mother had a proven track record of “always being right”–and she also had a Master’s degree in English! I tried to share my research and rationale and she was very closed-minded to all of it. We didn’t speak for several weeks and one day she called and offered to pay K’s tuition at a local Christian private school in exchange for me not “ruining” our daughter’s life and future by home schooling.
Lacking the self-confidence to stick with my decision, I gave in and enrolled our daughter in the private school. It was a 30+ minute commute and even though K was only in school from 8:30am until 11:30am, she always came to the car exhausted, sweaty, red-faced and fighting back tears. I couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t enjoying herself, as she was sociable and very smart. I volunteered in the classroom often and couldn’t identify what was problematic for K–her teacher was kind, the other kids seemed nice enough and the classroom was bright and cheerful. Many of the evaluations that were sent home were inaccurate though–the teacher didn’t realize that K knew the alphabet, could read and could tie her shoes! We had some other issues with the school, such as being told parents were not allowed to chaperone field trips–it concerned me that one teacher and one aide would solely be in charge of 30 children in a public place! (Eventually I “won” permission to attend field trips if I drove myself there while K rode the bus.)
Kindergarten ended and while I often wistfully fantasized about pulling K from school, I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to fight my mother, who at that point was beginning to hold the tuition money over me. “How can you even have the nerve to complain about the school when I’m paying for it?”
Thinking the long drive to and from school was part of the problem, my husband and I actually sold our first home and purchased one less than two miles from the school and moved during the summer before first grade. Unfortunately this didn’t solve our problem. K now had a 7 hour day and was three times as miserable and tired every afternoon, despite our attempts to make sure she ate well and got plenty of rest. Adding to our issues was the first grade teacher. K knew how to read–and well–but was shy about reading aloud in front of the class. The teacher placed her in the lowest reading group–for non readers–and then penalized her when she cried because a boy in her reading group continually tormented her about a minor speech issue.
Second grade was more of the same, except this teacher didn’t even try to hide her frustration and openly yelled at the students–often! Both years we had numerous conferences with the teachers and administration but they treated us as though we did not deserve to have any input about K’s educational experience. They believed we wanted “special treatment” for K, when in reality we just wanted our daughter to be treated with fairness and respect.
As the end of second grade was upon us, I decided enough was enough. I ignored my mother’s threats to make us reimburse three years’ tuition (which was around $10k) and announced K would not be returning to the school for third grade. I registered with a local public charter’s independent study program (to make sure we were ‘legal’), joined a home school group and never looked back, except for a brief trial with public school during an interstate move a few years later. I quickly realized again that yes, homeschooling was still the RIGHT choice for us, much to my mother’s disappointment. Home schooling definitely isn’t easy but seeing my children happy and carefree makes the time and any sacrifice involved worth it!
Interestingly enough, my mother became a long-term substitute teacher a few years ago and about a year ago she actually thanked me for being willing to home school her grandchildren! Two years in and out of classrooms at over two dozen public schools in two districts had finally given her an appreciation for why I have been called to home school!