Welcome my Tenacious Homeschool Tribe to our third episode of Homeschooling with Dr. B!
Today we will talk about the one question that you will get asked more often: “Why did you start homeschooling?”
Now, from many of you, given the pandemic, it’s an easy answer because you can say, “Well, it’s what I felt what’s currently best for our family.”
But for most of us, that was not the answer. Yet, the reason was not that different from yours, in that it took a catalyst; something happened that caused us to homeschool. Yes, you’re going to find families that grandma was homeschooled, mom was homeschooled, and now their kids are being homeschooled. But I haven’t found that to be the norm. For most of us, something happened that caused us to make that decision and often abruptly.
So, if you heard episode two, you know that both my husband and I had been briefly homeschooled and that it was not a positive academic experience. But we still had good feelings, good thoughts about homeschooling in general. We had seen it done very effectively among our peers and with some of our friends’ children. So, we never discarded the option. However, when the girls became school-age, several reasons caused us to decide to put them into a traditional school setting.
First, it was that we live in a really small town. We were new to the town, and we really didn’t know anybody that had kids. So, we thought, “Okay, we put them in preschool. They’ll make friends. They’ll socialize and will create a new social network.”
That is what happened. The other reason was, there were two really good private schools in this small town, and we decided to try them out. Pre-school was great in the first school that we tried. Kindergarten, not so much. This has a lot to do with the new teacher and a new principal. The school’s whole dynamics changed.
So, we opted to put them in the second private school, which was a really great experience. The kindergarten teacher was great. The first-grade teacher was great. My husband was getting a little bit nervous because this was a Catholic school, and one of my twin daughters, Andy, decided that she wanted to be a nun. And while I realized that this was not a big deal, she was six years old. She was probably going to change her mind many, many times about what she wanted to be in the future. It panicked my husband.
He was very happy when we left Michigan and moved to Florida because we thought we would have more options. It turns out the opportunities in the town that we moved to were limited, but there was a great Montessori school that covered Pre-K to eighth grade. So, we enrolled the kids in that, and we really thought that the kids would probably go to school there until they were done with the eighth grade, and they moved onto high school. Second-grade, great teacher, great experience. Third-grade, big problem. The third-grade teacher we had been looking forward to getting; was such a lovely teacher, great personality, great attitude, and academically strong. Well, she retired to homeschool her own child.
Now, this was quite a shock for us! Frankly, because her child would have been in her classroom the following year along with our kids. The fact that she retired to homeschool her kid left us with a very unpleasant taste in our mouths. What was it about that situation, which you would have thought was the ideal situation since her kid would be in her classroom, which caused her to leave? Why was homeschooling a better choice?
Now by that time, I was retired. I was no longer a college professor, and I would have been able to homeschool. But my husband said, “Look, this was a great school last year. Why don’t we hold off and see what this new third-grade teacher was going to be like?”
So, this was a very interesting experience. We attended the teacher-parent conference at the beginning of the year. We were there for forty-five minutes in which this new teacher instilled absolutely no confidence. She had this nervous high pitch laugh, and she kept babbling about this and that.
Finally, one of the parents raised her hands and said, “Okay. What we wanna know is, what’s your name.”
This was twenty minutes into the conversation. The teacher had not introduced herself. So she finally said, “I’m Mrs. So, and so.”
And then another parent raised their hands and asked, “What’s your background?”
“Oh well, I’ve been teaching middle school.”
Oh, brother, all the parents turned and looked at each other.
“Have you ever taught in elementary school?”
“No, but it’s not going to be a problem.”
I looked at my husband, who is a Pollyanna. His eyebrows were raised, his eyes were wide open, and I know that he knew I was really questioning this.
We asked her more questions about the school year and how she would be handling the kids. She really had no concrete answers. So, my husband and I left the parent-teacher conference, and my husband quickly said to me, “Okay, I don’t get the fuzzy feelings against this woman either, but we trust the principal. She was a great teacher. She is a great manager. We could trust that if she hired this woman, this was a good choice.”
Okay, it sounds like a reasonable thought process, right?
So, we start the school year. The first problem was Andy. Andy has ADHD in the moderate to severe range, and I’m going, to be honest with you, she’s more up there than anything else. She’s very, very hyperactive. Now, we went through many discussions, and I’m probably doing an episode of how we decided to do minimal medication. But the bottom line is, since the first grade, she’s been on minimal medication for her ADHD. Now, I have to tell you Andy’s personality because it makes a difference in this story. You know that old saying, “Follow, lead, or get out of the way.” Andy always gets out of the way. She marches to the beat of her own drum. And she’s also a bit of a clown. She can be really funny and very empathetic. But the bottom line is, that’s her personality. That’s not her ADHD; that’s simply her personality.
And what really bothered me about this teacher was that she wanted me to medicate my child out of her personality. She didn’t want just enough medication so that Andy could attend and so that she wouldn’t be hyperactive. The teacher wanted so much medication that Andy would turn into a zombie. Almost every time I went into this classroom, the teacher asked me to give Andy more medication and more medication. Her argument was always, “Well, you know, she was telling jokes. She didn’t wanna come in from recess.”
“Well, did the other kids wanna come in from recess?”
“Were the other kids telling jokes?”
“Why should I give Andy more medication?
How is she behaving differently from the other kids?”
“Well, she has ADHD.”
Yes, but just because a child has ADHD doesn’t mean that the child stops being a child. I seriously have a problem with that belief that you need to medicate a child with ADHD into being a zombie.
So, when I wouldn’t cooperate with the teacher. The next thing she did was sit Andy next to Emmi, her twin sister, which I hated. I hate people who make Emmi responsible for Andy, especially teachers! I had spoken to the principal about this. They never got to sit together. Ever. They were always on opposite sides of the room. They couldn’t be in separate classrooms, which I would have chosen, because these were small private schools. But at least, they were far away from each other. This new teacher insisted on sitting them together and insisting on having Emmi police Andy.
Now, Emmi already has a Type A personality, and she’s always trying to help me. Now, this teacher put Emmi in the position of parenting her sister, which I did not like. I did not appreciate it, and I don’t allow it in our home.
But the problem didn’t end there! Emmi is anaphylaxis to tree nuts, which means that she can stop breathing and die, just like that, if she’s exposed to tree nuts. Now, this teacher insisted on doing cooking projects that have products that might contain tree nuts.
So, Emmi and Andy were always told, “Well, you can’t do the project. You can just sit over here.”
Every Friday, they were excluded from the cooking project, which had never happened in the past. And when I discussed it with the teacher, she would say things like, “Well, I’m doing the best that I can.”
“No, you’re not! You’re excluding them. You can do a cooking project that doesn’t include tree nut products or products that might contain tree nuts. The other teacher was doing it.”
“Well, that was her. This is me.”
“Okay. So what happens if one of the kids accidentally exposes Emmi to the tree nuts?”
“Well, that could happen, and that’s a risk that you take when you have your child in the classroom.”
Excuse me! We as a society make accommodations for these types of challenges in all of the classrooms. For peanut allergies, for tree nuts, for milk, for eggs, for kids. This is a matter of life and death. But don’t get me started on that. So, I was extremely upset by it.
The catalyst was a test, a social studies test. So, our kids, at that point, had no chores. But we expected them to get grades no lower than a “B.” And if they earned a grade lower than a “B,” they would lose a privilege. They had a field trip coming up before the social studies test, and they knew that if they got anything lower than a “B,” they would not be able to go on this field trip.
So, what happens? As a retired educator, problem number one was they didn’t get the study guide until the day before the test. Okay, I was really upset because the teacher was basically teaching the kids to cram, not study. But okay.
I sat with the kids, we studied, and we studied. They knew the answers backward and forwards on the study guide. And then the next day, I go to pick them up from school, and Emmi is in tears. She’s in absolute tears. She got a C on the test.
I was like, “Wait a minute. How did you get a C?”
And she goes, “Mom, I’m telling you the stuff that she tested us on was not on the study guide.”
Well, I also know that that’s completely fair as an educator; you test outside of the study guide.
So I asked, “Emmi, well, why didn’t you take your book home?”
And Emmi said, “What book? We don’t have a social studies book. We have worksheets, and we always study from the study guide.”
This was the beginning of the year, and it was a new teacher. I wasn’t quite aware of this new system. So, I said, “Okay. Let me look at the test.”
I pull up the test, and lo and behold, some questions were not on the information on the study guide. So, I went in, and I need to talk to the teacher. “Emmi tells me that there’s no book and said that it couldn’t be true because we pay for books every year.”
And she says, “Oh no, she’s right. We don’t have a social studies book. What we have is a social studies binder.”
“Okay. Why were the kids’ binders sent home?”
“Well, they should know to take the binders home.”
They’re third graders. Give me a break! You need to let them know that they need to take such a thing home because there will be a test. But I didn’t say anything. I said, “Emmi give me your social studies binder. I want to take a look at it.”
Emmi brings it over, and I look at the binder, and the information is not on the binder. The information that she was tested on. So, I said to the teacher, “The information for these five questions is nowhere to be found on this binder.”
She says, “Yes, it is. It’s right there.”
I opened the binder and said, “Okay. Show me where the information is.”
She says to me, “Well, the kids need to learn to extrapolate.”
What?! Here’s the thing. I was a college professor, and freshmen have problems extrapolating. I was a college professor at a Tier One University, one of the country’s top universities. And when they’re freshmen, they’re having problems extrapolating. So, explain to me how if a freshman in one of the country’s best universities struggles to figure out how to extrapolate, how are third graders going to be able to do this? It’s ludicrous! It’s not going to happen.
But I took a deep breath because I know how I am about education. And because I know that being an advocate for my kids is something that’s very important to me because my mother was never an advocate for us. So, I know that’s a personal issue for me. So, I said, “Okay.”
Now, she turns, and she looks at Emmi and says, “Now look, you don’t have to worry about anything anyhow because you got a seventy percent of the test.”
I said, “Excuse me.”
She continued, “You don’t have to worry about anything unless you get a fifty percent.”
Sixty percent is failing! If she got fifty percent, we would be in serious trouble here. So, I said to Emmi, “First, don’t worry about the field trip. You’re going on the field trip. You’re not responsible for the grade that you got.”
The teacher looks at me with an angry face. Well, she wasn’t! In order to be responsible, she needed the information. She didn’t have the information. So, I told her, “Don’t worry about the field trip. You’re going on the field trip. I want you to wait for me in the other room.”
So, Emmi leaves, and I turn around, and I say to this teacher, “Don’t tell my child that it is acceptable for her to get less than a B. That is not acceptable in our household. My husband and I have worked very hard to provide a private education for our kids. We have certain rules and expectations in our family. And failure is not acceptable when your only responsibility is to be a child, enjoy your childhood, and do well in school. That’s it. That’s the only thing you’re responsible for.”
And she said to me, “I feel really sorry for your child.”
Oh, I wanted to throttle her. Instead, I said, “I need the ISBN numbers of the books that you’re using to grade the worksheets.”
“What do you mean why? You’re not providing the book. I’m going to go to Amazon. I’m going to get the book.”
I’m not kidding you when I say education is very important to me. So, the teacher didders, and I’m wondering, “What’s your problem? Why aren’t you giving me the ISBN number.” She finally gives it to me. And I go home, and I tell my husband everything that happened.
My husband was like, “Okay. I agree. Emmi should go on this field trip. It’s not her fault. You need to talk to the principal cause you need to figure out exactly what’s going on. We paid for books. Why don’t they have books?”
And so, I ordered the book on Amazon. When I ordered it, I noticed that it’s a seventh-grade book. They’re in the third-grade. It’s not a fourth-grade book. It’s not a fifth-grade book. It’s a seventh-grade book—four grades difference!
Now, I believe in high expectations educationally and in general for children. But four grades difference? It’s just too much. So, I did, I went, and I spoke to the principal who said, “Well, we don’t buy new books every year.”
I don’t get that. We pay for books. Our kids should have new books. But that’s a totally different argument.
The bottom line is that the principal said, “Well. She’s a great teacher, and if you just give her a chance. This is an adjustment period for her and an adjustment period for the families.”
But the thing was, it wasn’t one thing. It was the tree nuts; it was with the challenges with the ADHD; it was the seventh-grade book. So, I went home and shared her conversation with my husband.
He said, “The field trip is coming up. Let’s go on the field trip, and we’ll take it from there. We both talk to the principal. We both talk to this teacher. You can be overly sensitive when it comes to the girls.”
I am an older mom. I did think I was never going to have children. In fact, several doctors told me that. So, my twins are absolutely our miracles, and I am a very involved parent. Maybe he was right. It could be me being overly sensitive. He tends to be more even keel about these things.
We go on the field trip, and he has an opportunity to speak with both the principal and the teacher. And my husband, who was very concerned by the idea of homeschooling our kids, turned around and said to me in the middle of this field trip, “Pull the kids out and start homeschooling.”
I was like, “What?”
“Pull them out tomorrow. Talk to the principal. Pull them out. We’re done and start homeschooling.”
I was like, “Wait a minute. I need to get my supplies. I need to get the books. I need to figure it out.”
He was like, “Nope! It’s now, or I don’t know if I will be able to say yes again. Just do it. Do it. Now or never.”
And I realized that because of his own experience homeschooling, this was probably true. Okay. It was a “now or never” opportunity for me. So, I said, “Okay. We’re on!”
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have some serious concerns. So, here a professionally trained teacher had not been able to deal with Andy’s ADHD. Was I going to be able to deal with that? The tree nut issue, no problem. But how was it going to be having just two kids working together? They needed to be socialized. How was I going to get them socialized? And where was I going to find all of these materials that I didn’t have?
Lucky for me, my best friend had been a third-grade teacher. She had retired from teaching to become a social worker. She had tons of material, which she quickly sent from North Carolina to Florida.
So, yes. I pulled out the kids. I was feeling nervous, feeling insecure. Not sure if I was doing the right thing. But you know what, I remember meeting a woman once at the Catholic school where the girls had attended. She was attending a party there because she attended the church. However, her children did not attend the school because she had homeschooled all thirteen of her children. Oh, my goodness! I don’t know how people do that, and I know they do it on a regular basis. But yeah, thirteen kids. She had homeschooled all of them. She was still homeschooling, in fact. Out of the six that had got to college, three of them have gone on to Ivy League schools on full scholarships. Now this woman had only gone to high school, and when I was talking to her, she said, “You know I learned more by teaching than I did when I was a student myself. When I was a student, I only went as far as pre-algebra in math. But as a homeschool mom, I taught calculus.”
And clearly, she taught it really well. And here I was, a retired college professor afraid of my kids. That just seems silly now.
I told myself that if that mom could do it and do it so successfully, I could do it too. And besides, I was only planning on homeschooling the elementary school years. I was planning on putting them back on that Montessori school as soon as they hit the sixth grade. So they would have sixth, seventh, and eighth there, and they would move on to high school.
Of course, things changed, and I’ve homeschooled third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and now I’m homeschooling eighth-grade. And I have to tell you, my kids are not geniuses. They’re not. We work, and we work hard. And every year at the end of the year, they’re tested by the state. Emmi is typically in the ninety-ninth percentile for language arts and then the ninety-eight for math. Andy is in the ninety-ninth for math and in the ninety-eight for language arts. Dedication. Commitment. Hard work.
Now, I’ve talked to the girls several times about going to high school next year. We’re a little nervous about the pandemic. We’re very hopeful about the vaccine being available soon. But the reality is that the girls are not interested, and they’re not interested because they have an incredibly active social life. Emmi is writing at the college level. Andy is one point away from writing at the college level. We’ve adopted two children who, two years ago, spoke no English. After only a year and a half, Dora is testing at the ninety-ninth percentile for math and grade-level language arts. She did not speak English two years ago. Bug, he’s just done with preschool and entering Kindergarten. So, more games, more fun than anything else.
So far, we’ve considered our homeschooling journey a success for our family. We’ve met our goals and were very happy with the results. What we’ll do next year for high school? We’re not sure. I have to be honest with you about that. We’re not sure, but the girls are certainly advocating for continuing to homeschool and doing dual enrollment at the community college.
If you liked our show, I hope you will subscribe and download, so we can continue to stay in touch.
If you are just embarking on your homeschool journey or are a pro, join us in our sometimes crazy but always fun homeschooling journey by subscribing to our podcast or blog. For links and resources, please visit our website. Till next week! Enjoy your kiddos!