July 2, 2013

A Glimpse into My Year as a Public School Teacher

After 18 years of homeschooling and a year of graduate school, I spent last school year in a public school classroom. I was the Title 1 reading teacher in a small town in Central Illinois. Let's just say it was very educational. I learned I don't belong in the public school system. I'm too into respecting the child as a unique learner and using individual interests as a bridge to a love for learning. Public schooling is more about making the child fit the mold and meet the criteria established by people who never met them. 

Interest + Opportunity = Motivation

For example, Laura (not her real name) was a 7th grader who had been in Title 1 since first grade. For one thing, a child should not be in a special reading classroom that long unless she has a learning disability, and then she should be in the special education classroom. Instead, Laura plodded through the same curriculum delivered by the same teachers every year, and because she didn't score well enough on certain tests, she went through it all again. No wonder she hated reading!

Toward the end of the year I was able to free the junior high kids from the computerized reading twaddle and get them into real books. I found a book that I knew Laura would love. It was about a girl who got on an all-boys sports team (her own dream) and it revolutionized her life. 

Here's how it went: I found the book at a university library and brought it to school. As I handed it to her, I gave a little synopsis, then walked away. After just a couple minutes, Laura slammed down her hand and said, "Mrs. B, I love this book!" A couple minutes later, she said, "You gotta hear this!" and she started reading to me, telling me how cool this story was. I smiled and tried not to explode with joy!

A few days later she came in and said, "Last night my mom said everything has changed since I started reading this book. I'm doing my chores, getting my homework done and reading every chance I get." I was speechless. She even read walking down the halls at school. Remember, this was the girl who HATED READING!

Even though I had great success with Laura and gave her a vision of what she could do academically, I realize that my philosophy of teaching and learning is at odds with the public school machine. It would be another year of pain and suffering for us all...pain for me as the inflicter of nonsensical policies and pain for them as they endured it.

Homework
This mug sat on my desk, full of pencils. It's from LennyMud on Etsy.
I resigned. I know I could help those kids in that particular school, but I want to use my super powers to help parents succeed at home. I want to help them resist the temptation of sending their kids to school just because they are struggling readers or lack motivation to learn. Homeschooling isn't easy, but it's a lot of fun, and it's much better for kids than being cooped up in a building all day long, forced to do things that masquerade as education. So now I'm looking for suggestions. I will keep blogging, but what else could I do to encourage families to join (and stick with) the homeschooling movement?

34 comments:

Anne-Marie said...

Does it have to be something that pays money? I think that combining your official school credentials that allowed you to teach in a public school with your experience as a mother of kids in school and homeschooled, you could set up an informal educational consultancy, supporting beginning homeschoolers. Maybe you could start by giving some talks to local groups where there are likely to be parents of small children: preschools, playgroups, mothers' clubs, church nurseries, etc.

Jena said...

I love those ideas! thank you :)

kelbrktt said...

I have been reading your blog for a while. I keep coming back to see if you have posted anything. I as so happy to see you had posted today. I am a new homeschooling mom and you are such an inspiration to me. It is a struggle some days but in my heart I know that I'm doing the right thing for my children. Thank you for the insight and the motivation to keep at it.

Traci DeSheles said...

I admire you for teaching for a year. It didn't take me long to figure out that I was not cut out for public school teaching and this was before I had my girls! You wrapped up my thoughts quite well. There was always one or two reasons I enjoyed being in the classroom and ten or more why I hated it!
I like Annemarie's suggestions. MOPS is a great place to encourage moms to homeschool.

kim said...

Jenna, whatever you do, please keep blogging! I originally found you on simplehomeschool.net and you have been such an inspiration for me. I can't tell you how soothing it is to read your posts. Knowing that you have home educated your kids up to adulthood is so encouraging. And thank you for this most recent post. We had a tough year last year with a difficult cross country move. I've been tempted to throw in the towel and send the kids to public school due to their bickering mostly. Thanks for keeping me on track!

Jena said...

Thank you everyone. Wow, you are so encouraging! Kim, I know the feeling. Spending all day with bickering kids can drive anyone to public schooling! But we have the big picture in mind. :)

JoVE said...

Your example is really stark. I think the longer we have been disconnected from the school system the harder it is to go back.

Keep blogging. And maybe run workshops locally for people. Those starting out need encouragement and practical tips. And I bet they would pay for a workshop if they thought it gave them real value (though you might need to work out the right price point).

The other thing I thought of is running a co-op. Another online homeschooling buddy of mine started one in her community several years ago and it is thriving. I get the impression it even pays her a bit but I might be wrong. I'd be happy to put you in touch with her so you could talk about what she did, how it worked, etc.

Wonderful World said...

That is amazing that you have a heart to help young homeschooling moms! I am trying to gear up for another year of schooling and remembered a blog posts from you on Simple schooling. I was so encouraged by your posts. The interest led model is so freeing and makes so much sense but its easy to get sucked back into the school @ home mindset! We need mom's like you that have walked this rode all the way before us to continue to remind us!! This works and is really better for our kids! Homeschooling can be fun but its absolutely not with the wrong perspective!!! We need to hear the right perspective over and over again! Keep posting!!

kjogo said...

The fact that your superpowers are available to help homeschoolers totally rocks my world!!!
Have you considered homeschool coaching? That could be done through the internet or phone? An online homeschool group would be another possibility. Your blog is such a wonderful resource to which I refer often. I think it'd be great to have your material in print. Maybe a book or just a book off of your blog posts?
It is such a blessing to be encouraged by someone such as yourself. Thank you, Jena!

Jena said...

Wow, you all are awesome. I love your ideas. Thank you! You made my day. :)

Christine said...

Hi Jena,
You really have been and still are a huge inspiration to all of us with younger children in the depths of homeschooling. I found you through simplehomeschool.net as well. You seem to have so many strengths such as writing and connecting to other parents that want to begin or to keep going in this journey. I wish you the best and hope that you'll keep feeding us your wonderful wisdom :) I know with where I live that after Montessori preschool parents are looking for "what's next?". So I agree- MOPS and untraditional type preschools may be a great place to begin providing encouragement and education regarding home education. Why not bring one of your children in with when you speak with you to a group of parents. That would really grab their attention. Best of luck to you!

Karen said...

Oh you don't know how thankful we are for your blogging! I discovered you through simplehomeschool.net also. Some time last year, we were seriously considering sending one of our children to school or at least hire a tutor because of "later-than-most" reading skills. I found and read almost all of the archives here. We stuck with it, backed off, and followed her lead instead of making her plod through set curriculum. Within just a couple months, we saw noticeable differences. Her reading has grown in leaps and bounds. And just last week, she was a finalist in our church VBS Bible drill, that she chose to participate in on her own. She was over the moon excited. Thank you for sharing and encouraging, please continue.

Anonymous said...

So glad that you're blogging again! I missed you during your hiatus.

Lin

Unknown said...

I have just stumbled across your blog. We have homeschooled for several years, but my littlest is really struggling with reading. I actually put her in public school last year (to let the "experts" help her). Public school for her lasted about six weeks during which time she came home crying every single day saying how stupid she was. I basically let her take the rest of the school year off from formal learning, but I'm scared about this year. She is behind in reading, no doubt about it but she is so far along in other areas. I am just trying so hard not to stress about it. That is why finding your blog was such a breath of fresh air. Thank you so much! Please keep blogging! :-)

Jena said...

Believe me, I've been there. The key is to make sure she maintains her belief in herself, that she can learn and that she's smart in many ways. How old is she?

Erica Laramee said...

I think this article is old now, but after reading it @ simplehomeschool.net, I just had to comment. I was a first grade teacher for 10 years (with a curriculum that focused on developing phonics and reading) and I can totally relate to your story. Now, I am homeschooling 3 young children. One thing I've done is some group and individual tutoring on the side. I love it because I get to bring my unique-ness to the table and bring out theirs. I have done it privately and through a company. Enjoyed both experiences. The pay isn't huge, but it's grocery money! :) Maybe you would enjoy some tutoring on the side while doing your homeschooling blogging and mentoring?

Heather said...

Thank you for all your encouragement, I know God has a good plan for you. Have you also considered, in conjunction with the other suggestions, opening a home school friendly library. In my experience , with both private and public libraries, this is a community need. Keep pressing on, Blogging Friend!

pnix said...

I also found your post through the Simple Homeschool link. I am also a former public school teacher and I think there is a definite need for encouragement of homeschooling moms! Blogs are WONDERFUL but there is nothing like a flesh and blood person to sit and ask questions, pray with, celebrate with, cry with. Mentoring homeschool moms through your church, local homeschool academies or co-ops might be great. Also, in Georgia (where I live) there are lots of homeschool academy-type schools- where the kids go to the program one day a week and are schooled at home the rest of the week. I teach in a program like this and I absolutely love it!

Martha A. said...

I found your blog a long while while back and it really encouraged me. I have had some struggling readers and your encouragement helped me to keep homeschooling, along with Simple Homeschool blog. I don't know what I would have done without it!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine is doing this and you might be inspired to do the same?

www.homeschoolinghelp.com.au

Helen said...

I have a 11 year old boy in 5th grade that is a terrible writer. He cant spell very well and hates to write. What can I do to help him improve?,

Jena said...

Thanks for all the great ideas! I started tutoring one little boy who is starting second grade but reading at a kindergarten level. He's in public school, so he has to keep up the pace. I enjoy working with him. Maybe I'll get a few more as the school year goes on.

Helen, about your writing question...I think the best writing instruction comes from reading (or listening to) great writers. I would let him read and get great books to listen to in the car or before he goes to sleep. The organization and vocabulary will do wonders for his abilities. If he's a homeschooler, there is no great reason to push writing at this point. Let him develop his ear for good writing.

Pippi said...

Hi Jena! I don't know if I've ever commented before but I've loved reading your blog! I asked myself the same question while on maternity leave with my third child. I really didn't know how I could go back to public school because my strong beliefs, especially about reading, go so against the practices used. I remember telling my husband I wanted a job as a homeschooling consultant where I could encourage and support homeschooling families. And then I found that job! I'm starting my first year with an organization call SelfDesign that supports homeschooling families virtually. I'm their teacher contact and I give support and suggestions for resources and encouragement. Here in British Columbia we have some interesting homeschooling rules that not only mean my support is free for the families but they also get $1000 to use on learning resources. I do have to track their Learning Outcomes based on provincial curriculum but I look at what they do and check off what applies -- they don't learn around the curriculum, I figure how what they've learned fits the curriculum.

SelfDesign is still very much based in British Columbia because of our homeschooling regulations but they are trying to reach out internationally. Their learning philosophy is based on learners determining their own learning path. They do have educators from outside BC though I'm not sure how the global program works. If you're interested look up selfdesign.org or email me.

Pippi said...

Hmm, there was no place to leave my email when I commented. So if you do have any questions let me know in a comment and I'll email you :)

Jena said...

Pippi,

What a great idea! Sounds ideal, really. It's great that they let the learners set their own path and you connect what they do with the requirements. That's what we did as homeschoolers.

I've started tutoring one on one a little. I have a second grade boy I'm working with now, so I'm getting my teaching fix. Other than that, we're building our home business on Etsy. Both girls are in town, so I get to spend more time with them. Things are feeling more settled for me right now. It's nice.

I wonder if there is anything in the US like you are doing in Canada. If not, that would be a great thing to start. Thank you for letting me know about it!

Amber @ Au Coeur said...

"I used Grammarly to grammar check this post because even if you are a descent righter, spell check cant catch everything!"

Not to be rude, but that's a joke, right? Especially coming from a teacher?

Jena said...

Hi Amber, yes, it's a joke, but a dumb one, so I decided to edit it out. Thank you!

Jennifer said...

I too was a PS teacher - for less than a year all total. I had a Kindergarten class to myself for a few months (covering the maternity leave for the main teacher) in 1995. We were doing a Spring unit and had to decorate our bulletin board for decorated paper eggs. I handed out the blank egg shapes and art supplies for the kids to design their eggs.

One boy, let's call him Frank, began cutting pieces of paper and attaching them in what appeared to be random places, making the "required egg" look less and less like an egg. Initially I made suggestions as to the "proper" way to decorate the egg etc... but when it was clear Frank was not following the suggestions, I waited it out, to see where this was going. All the other kids finished their eggs, in the traditional sense, they looked like decorated eggs. Frank soon finished up too. I walked over to him, a little nervous and worried the others may make fun of his non-egg. What I saw was a ROBIN, with the egg as the bird's body! It was unique, and creative to say the least! He looked up at me, as if I was going to admonish him for "not following directions" when one child said "Frank always does stuff like that even though the teacher tells him to stop". I took a deep breath and held up the robin for the class to see. We talked about what the robin represented this time of year, which led to other signs of Spring and so on. I also shared with the kids that I felt Frank's robin was a very creative addition to our egg/Spring themed board and we all agreed it could be hung in the middle of the egg border.

A smiling Frank was clearly both relieved and happy. I was happy for him at that moment but also sad because this was just one of many examples of interactions I encountered where kids were not allowed to be creative, different, or just see where something takes them in any lesson begin taught. I resigned too.

Now I have a boy "just like Frank" and after preschool and K experiences for my son proved that education has not changed much, he and I school at home and are having a great time! I still feel the need to "jump in" and try to influence my son according to my way but realize quickly that patience, observation, and encouragement get us to the place HE needs at that moment as well as a much greater lesson has been learned.

Thank you for reminding me that I have made some good decisions, both for myself and my career as well as for my son and his education!
- Jennifer in PA

BabyBrock said...

I enjoyed your honesty here. I would love to have more resources (curriculum, blogs, books, anything) geared toward homeschooling special needs. I get overwhelmed (in a fun way) about all the choices I have in homeschooling my 2 typical kiddos but am finding limited resources for my sweet one with special needs. I think it is because the other parents homeschooling kids with special needs are too exhausted to blog for the most part ;)

Jena said...

Thank you, everyone, for your great comments! The things you say here are encouraging other parents, so keep it up. Jennifer, thank you for sharing your story. How amazing! I'm glad your little "Frank" has a place to grow unhindered. Who knows what he will do with his gifts!

Jena said...

Baby Brock, I will look into special needs resources. Great question!

Jena said...

Here are some links to homeschooling special needs children. Maybe it will lead you down some good rabbit trails :)

http://simplehomeschool.net/?s=special+needs

http://www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner/sn_checkintro.asp

TutyFrutyJudy said...

Hi BabyBrock! You didn't mention what your little one's special needs involve. I homeschool and have sikce preschool. I have an 11 and 2 year old on the Autism spectrum, and a 7 year old that is undiagnosed, but exhibits many similar struggles as well as some unique ones. Nee concepts are sometimes very overwhelming, so we have to break things into very small and simple parts and move slowly until she gets it. I blog at
http://hide-n-sensory-seeking.blogspot.com

Hope you find the resources you need and stay supported and inspired!

TutyFrutyJudy said...

I wish everyone involved in the public school system were as enlightened and motivated as you Jena!

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