Last week, I answered a few questions about switching from home school to a traditional classroom. I promised to give some specifics about the good and the bad.
2. The paperwork and logistics. Our school is really good about keeping paperwork and homework minimal, but it was hard for us to get used to even basic things like, “Where’s my lunch box?” Sometimes it feels like there is always something to sign, always a check due, and always something to volunteer for (and we are probably the least volunteering family in the school). It’s unrelenting, and the kids always remember they need something at 11 PM.
4. The influence of bad kids. Some of the other kids they spend time with are jerks, and our kids pick up some bad stuff from these kids. This worries us. Even the good kids have some bad ideas. They all think divorce and gay marriage and premarital sex are normal, for instance. We try to make this aspect of our lives into an opportunity to remind kids that they are born to be evangelists; that they should expect to stand out because of their faith; that we don’t do things just because everyone else is doing them; and that we all need to learn how to be good to people we don’t like, and we all need to learn how to treat people well even when we don’t approve of (or imitate) what they are doing.
Our younger kids are in a small school with involved parents, and we like most of our kids’ friends. The high school kids have to put up with a lot of unpleasantness (profanity, sexual talk, kids who are promiscuous and drink and take drugs and have contempt for decency in general), especially in the hallway and on the bus. They try to find decent friends, and they wear their earbuds when they’re outnumbered.
Most of our kids have a bit of chip on their shoulder about not conforming, and I sometimes worry more that they’re turning into snobs than I do about them becoming too worldly.
5. It’s harder to shape their tastes. We haven’t come across the teachers exposing the kids to anything objectionable — the last thing most teachers want is start some war with the parents — but they do introduce them to mediocre stuff sometimes, especially fiction and music. It’s harder to get some kids excited about Narnia if all their friends are racing through the 374 volumes of Pixie Friends of Bubblegum Hollow available at school.
6. I hate sending my little ones off. When they are gone for a big part of the day, our relationship changes forever, and it hurts (even when I see that it’s good for them in many ways). But we love our kindergarten teacher to bits, and the kids do well when they get in on the ground floor.
4. The kids get teachers who are trained in how to teach. In our charter school (which is K-8), the classes are small and there are teacher’s aides who can work with the kids individually, and they have much better success than I do, especially in math. I know, I know, I’ve been to college, and anyway I’m their mother, and that makes me an expert in my kids. That was enough as long as I was teaching a kid who didn’t actively resist whatever I was teaching; but it wasn’t enough for when we hit a stone wall. Sometimes, I just plain wouldn’t know how to do it, and so it didn’t get done. In theory, I could tailor the lessons to the kids’ individually-appropriate learning styles; but in practice, I was only one person, with limited patience and imagination and zero training, and I was too overwhelmed to go into depth with any of the myriad tips and guides for how to teach in various ways.
Many of our kids’ teachers have been good, and a few are truly great. I was afraid the kids would get a mediocre education, but they’re actually getting quite a good one. It’s not necessarily the same kind of education I once hoped to give them, but in some ways, it’s better.
5. It’s been good to have help from experts. This is more private, so I’ll be vague, but we have benefited from the advice of experts who are trained to notice when kids could use outside help. I don’t think anyone would have picked up on these issues if we had been home schooling, because no one else would have spent enough time with our kids to notice them; and that would have been a huge loss. And it’s also been a gateway revelation for me, making me more open to the idea of getting help for myself when I need it.
6. We are off each other’s backs, which is good for kid-kid relationships and for kid-parent relationships. There are a lot of introverts in our family, and we get along better when we’re not on top of each other all the time. We like spending time with each other, and we love each other, and the kids play together and do projects together; but we seem to recharge with some time apart. We’re all happier when our relationship is not colored by the emotional and psychological stress that went along with academic work. Which is a fancy way of saying that my kids aren’t always mad at me for making them do division drills, and I can look into their pretty faces without thinking, “You don’t know about the War of 1812, and it’s all my fault!”
7. We just meet more people this way, and get exposed to the things that these new people are interested in, and are more confident around people who aren’t like us. My kids have made friends, I’ve made friends, and it’s been great. We’re all way more friendly and outgoing, more confident and socially adept than we used to be.
8. I’ve learned invaluable lessons about parenting and life in general: Not everyone needs to be just like me or my ideal. Most people are actually decent, and don’t mean us harm, and may have something wonderful to offer. I can’t and don’t give my kids everything they need. It’s okay to change my plans. It’s okay to be wrong about stuff, as long as you’re willing to change. Hardly any choice you make will be all good or all bad. And not everything has a simple solution, especially when it comes to people.
Other people now have a big influence over our kids’ attitudes and what information they’re exposed to. Do they learn things I’m not happy about? Yes indeed. The kids sometimes casually mention some fact that I know is false, and I realize there must be more that I don’t know about. This is probably the scariest part. We have to be on the alert, especially when a kid is taking a history course (what will they teach about the Crusades?) or a biology class (what will they cover in the reproductive unit?). So nu, so it’s called talking to your kid.
But we get to know the teachers for the younger kids, and have learned to trust them; and we check in with our older kids to see what they are reading and learning. We accept that this is part of this kind of schooling. It just is. I used to believe that teachers were just aching to usurp the parents’ authority. Turns out most of them, as I mentioned, just want to educate kids, and they love it when parents get involved. The schools are good about keeping us in the loop — for instance, we could opt out of the sex ed sessions in middle school, and we have to give written permission for the high school kids to watch movies.