Saturday, December 22, 2012

Long post about why I've fallen off the face of the earth :)

So the homeschooling bug didn't just bite.  It took my leg off!  In September Ian started to have frequent tantrums and to utter threats when he felt cornered.  Thanks to an environment of zero tolerance, I started to get almost daily calls, and the anxiety for him and for me was really detrimental to our family life. Things were escalating to the point that I felt that he might be expelled since he does not have a 504 plan or IEP in force.  I decided that any place that brings out the very worst in my kid is not the place for my kid.  That place was definitely our local elementary school!

We had always been rather culture shocked by the atmosphere of the school.  The academic pace was fine, but the pointless homework and finding out that they were wasting time at school watching non-academic movies upset me. The passive aggressive notes from teachers indicating that we were not involved parents really upset me!  I am a very hands-on momma, but my kids require a lot of hands!

The constant emphasis on something to buy or something to raise money for also caused undue pressure on us.  We don't believe in selling at church, and we aren't about to bother neighbors or co-workers with catalogs of overpriced crap.  The frequent parties (that we were asked to bring stuff for) were so incongruous to the atmosphere of constant disapproval and discipline.  Ian had one good teacher for 2nd grade, the best teacher I've ever met.  However, his first grade teacher was marginal.  Aidan had an acceptable kindergarten teacher, but his first grade teacher was awful. Common methods for handling minor behavior issues or irresponsibility included losing tokens for a crappy school store in the distant future and losing recess time.  Kids with hyperactivity and impulsivity issues will not really learn from losing a privilege in the distant future, and the last thing you want to do with kids like this is take away their time to blow off steam.  Really, it's basic childhood development!

When Ian was a first grader in 2010, we had him tested for giftedness.  He tested extremely high in some areas but tested so low in working memory that it skewed his scores.  The teacher took the opportunity during this IEP meeting to dump all kinds of issues on me that she had never mentioned before.  I paid over $1000 trying to figure out what was wrong with my child that he had such a low performing working memory.  Turns out it was just anxiety.  They didn't test for compliance.  Another example of poor professionalism! It was fine that he didn't get into the gifted program because it was ONE HOUR per week.  Whoop de doo!  I told the first grade teacher in that meeting that the results confirmed my feeling that I should homeschool him.  She warned that it would only make him more socially awkward and make it harder to re-enter school later.  I listened because I was so overwhelmed by our move to Wheeling, a recent 2nd degree burn to my entire right thigh, and a mix-up at WJU that resulted in us having no money for Christmas that year.

Dealing with the principal was a whole other matter. He was completely unengaged in the IEP meeting, like a bored kid in church. Since I began having trouble with the school, I suddenly heard all these reports that he is a well-known womanizer who cheated on his wife, broke up his family, and now trolls the bars asking out every woman he meets, including many women that I know personally.  Rumors, maybe, but this is not the kind of person I want my kids to be around.  When I spoke with a professional who works with children in the area, her advice was to wear a low-cut shirt when dealing with him.  I looked around at the PTA and saw why he let them do what they wanted.  They were his type!

I also heard from other education professionals and from social workers that the man is clueless and that he is very unprofessional.  I saw this first hand.  He ignored letters I sent him about my concerns.  He blew off any criticism that I expressed in meetings.  He demanded that we meet in person (a huge inconvenience with four kids) when a phone conversation would have sufficed.  He has abdicated all responsibility to the unqualified members of the PTA, entrusting most of the routine mass communication to them.  He claims that he can't make many policy changes "because it was like this before I got here".  Show some leadership!  He seems baffled by routine discipline issues that I deal with every day. When I pointed out that he has a hand-picked demographic of involved and educated parents with financial means, he dismissed this and claimed that the school's performance is really due to their superior teaching.  (See paragraph C!).

In Ian's second grade year, his behavior was generally fine, and I never had a call from the school. His teacher and I were able to communicate very well via email, but her classroom management was spectacular, and she didn't let things escalate.  The first month of 3rd grade I had 1 or 2 calls per week.  It was the change in teachers that undid any progress Ian had made.  I recently got a message that I had missed in September, hidden deep in my voicemail.  The teacher was calling and ORDERING me to REPORT (used that word twice!) to the office first thing the next morning.  Good thing I missed that call! That was the day I pulled him from school.

I had just started leading a 6 week walking program and a semester of 6 credit hours that included 60 hours of observation, so this was NOT the time to begin homeschooling.  Except that I had no other option.  Putting Ian in another school right away would only lead to more frustration and acting out.  I accepted this challenge to do what was right for my child and trusted that God would give me the strength and wisdom to do what I needed to do each day.

And it worked!  Ian has become much more calm and reasonable.  We hiked through the local park, Ian guiding Mara, and Ella on my back.  We played and learned and enjoyed peaceful days....until Aidan came home each day.

He would explode into the house, tired, cranky, and annoyed with life.  He would fight me for two hours each day to complete his homework. I would get notes from his teacher asking me to work with him on his math skills, but there was no time to do so! I would think about various homeschool activities, only to have to scrub them because they would interfere with being home for Aidan's bus drop off time.  We had some of the benefits and  homeschooling and of traditional school AND all of the drawbacks.  Aidan came down with bronchitis in October and never went back to school when he got better in the middle of the month.  We did a trial run of homeschooling while he was sick, and he loved it!  I realized that he had matured enough and our relationship had grown enough for us to spend all day together.  It just felt right to have him home and not have this persistent low-level annoyance of having the school dictating priorities to us and intruding into our family life.

Now we spend two or three hours a day doing direct instruction and seat work, which is NOTHING like the drama we would have doing homework after a long day at school.  Then we read in the afternoon, go on fun outings, play, watch documentaries, scour the library for new ideas, play at the gym at my husband's university, and enjoy our time together.  Aidan excels in reading and language, and his math fluency is improving slowly.  I know it will click one day!  Ian is working on multiplication with answers in the tens of thousands, along with decimals, fractions, and percentages.  He'll be ready for pre-algebra next year.  His class at school is learning multiplication.  Ian is reading on a 9th grade level (lexile around 1000), and he read The Hobbit this semester and enjoyed it very much! I assign math and language activities based on their needs and abilities, and they choose science and social studies themes for the quarter.  It has really been a lot of fun!

Of course, on top of all of this I've been working on those 6 credit hours!  I managed to limp along with my work all semester and ended up with a 4.0 thanks to my family's support!  I live school all day long, and I'm learning so much about how children learn by spending all day with mine.

Behavior issues are dramatically decreased at home and away from home.  They're like different kids!  Our whole family dynamic is SO much more positive!  Is this ideal for our family?  Yes and no.  It is the right thing for right now.  I don't have time to spend with friends and recharge my momma batteries as much, but I am surrounded by a lot of support.  I'm feeling so blessed that God had been preparing me for this over the last few years!

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