Friday, March 9, 2012

Education about Education

I've mentioned before that it's downright fun to talk about homeschooling with others, purely to see their reactions. Apparently, to many people, only nutters home educate. Well, I have met a few of those ;) but they aren't the average homeschooler. Or at least I don't think so. Not the crowd I hang around, anyway....

When I mention that we homeschool, quite a few people seem generally interested and are very supportive, and often want to know more about it. But I have seen others wrinkle their nose, or say "Oh, that's nice" and then casually change the subject. Apparently, homeschooling can be quite taboo!!

But one of the most discouraging reactions I've received is this - "Oh, well, you used to be a teacher, so it's ok!"

Technically, that's true. I use the term "teacher" pretty loosely, because in all honesty I didn't last very long in the profession. However, I do have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, with an emphasis in middle school math (thankyouverymuch), and was 'certified' by the State to educate young, impressionable minds. Scary, huh? :) LOL My State certification has since expired, but lucky for me (and for everyone who ever went to college), my degree has not.

But there are quite a few people out there in the Real World who think home education is a joke. That only those who have been deemed "worthy" by the State (any of the 50 will do, I guess) should be allowed to teach children. Such thinking goes hand in hand with the belief that said education couldn't ever possibly take place outside of a State run school building (again, any State building will do).

Well, guess what? As one of those former so-called "qualified" educators, I'm here to tell you that my college education was grossly inadequate. Most of what was used on a day in day out basis in the classroom was obtained by on the job training. And trial and error. And mentors. NOT from my college education.

And for those who think that my education ABOUT education has helped me in my homeschooling?? Not so much.... Not once have I thought at the end of the day, “Wow! I am SO glad I took that methods class in college! It certainly helped me teach my son about the Pythagorean Theorem!”

Um…. No…

It’s true that I already know most of the things that I’m teaching Drew right now. (Gosh, that sounded arrogant… didn’t mean it to come off that way! I think most of us could handle a 6th grade curriculum.) But there are some things that I have forgotten over the years, so I’m “relearning” it right along with him. I feel I’m setting a good example for him – that we all forget things over time, but that education is important and you’re never too old to learn. And I’m sure it won’t be very long until I’m teaching him things that I’ve never experienced before. And again – I’ll be setting a good example; most importantly HOW to learn new things.

Anyway, I’m not qualified to homeschool my son because I have a college education, or because I was previous “certified” by the State, or because I spent time in a real, actual classroom. I’m qualified because I’m his Mom. Because I know him better than anyone else (with the exception of my husband – who also participates in homeschooling!). Because real life applications of learning are the best way to retain information. And, most of all, because it’s FUN! :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life Lessons

Why are relationships so hard?!?

If you know me, or are familiar with this blog at all, you know that my son is autistic. He has trouble making and keeping friends, being a good friend, seeing others’ points of view, carrying on conversations, etc. Relating to others in general. Obviously, I try to help him in this area by giving him good, safe opportunities to meet other kids, and guide him in the process. But, due to recent events in my own personal life, I’ve been thinking about relationships in general, and how tough it is to make and keep good friends even for us “typical” folks.

(I want to interject here that I find knitting an awesome activity for the times I really need to think things over/through. I’m not sure what it is… the rhythmic movement of the needles? The repetitive movements of my hands, leaving my mind to wander over a difficult subject? Anytime I really need to do some hard thinking, I reach for a knitting project. Luckily for me, a holiday project presented itself for completion by Valentine’s Day, just when I needed the calmness of knitting to mull this topic over in my mind….)

Anyway, many of us have a hard time understanding other people and their motivations. When people do something that completely comes from left field, it takes you by surprise. And then you wonder “why did they do that?” or “why did they act that way?” When *I* can’t even figure it out, how am I supposed to explain it to my son?

I will not go into the sordid details of what happened in my own life (most of which would bore you anyway). Let’s just say that what happened was nothing new; “friends” that may have not been real friends at all. Maybe it’s my recent role of home educator, but I chose to look at this as a learning experience. And what did I learn? Actually, I didn’t learn anything new, but rather reminded myself of things I already knew. It’s good to have reminders, really. It further solidifies your own beliefs.

To help explain things to my son, I made a list – not just beliefs or rules on friendships, but about relating to others in general – these are things I want him to know to help him be an all around better person as he gets older. Things that I feel will serve us ALL.

1. Individuality - We are all individuals, and we are just fine the way we are. You are unique. Revel in it. OWN it. There is no one in the world like you! (which is a great thing to think about!) The most important thing you can be in life, is YOU.

2. Change – Even as individuals, we are works in progress. We have the right to change our minds and change our attitudes, especially when presented with new information. Change is often a good thing.

3. Motivation – Be aware of motivations – both yours and others. It is never ok for someone to try and change you for THEIR benefit. When someone is trying to make you fit their mold, it’s time for you to speak up or walk away.

4. Respect – As stated above, we are all individuals. Therefore, we will all have unique and different views about a variety of subjects. We can learn and benefit from others, so it’s wise to listen to what others have to say. This is a two way street, so that person should also reciprocate and give us a turn to share our views, too! It’s ok to disagree with another’s view, as long as it’s done in a respectful manner.

5. Tolerance – Inevitably, we will encounter other individuals who have different views and ideals from ours. Just because we don’t agree with them, doesn’t mean we’re wrong. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong either. I think it’s possible that both groups can be “right” and still be friends. However, it will take tolerance and understanding on both sides for it to work.

In conclusion, be fair to others. Give them the benefit of the doubt if you can. This means not to jump to conclusions about others until they give you the information you need to make a decision. If, once you have all the information, you come to the conclusion that the other person is not a good friend, put some space between yourself and this person. Others will come along to take their place… others who will likely be better friends to you in the long run.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Roll with It

One of the best things about homeschooling is the flexibility it offers.

If your child is an early bird, you can get school underway at 7am and finish by noon, leaving the rest of the day for whatever you want. Afternoons could be spent on field trips, hanging with friends or just goofing off.

Conversely, if your child is a night owl, you can sleep in and start when you feel like it. This seems to be the course of action around our house, and as long as we get our lessons in, I don’t mind. Drew wants to sleep until 9am or so, take some time waking up (read: play Wii or other handheld game), and then start school around 10am. Most of the time, the entire day is accomplished in pajamas! Of course, starting later means you finish later. Recently, my son lamented this fact when we were sitting on the couch reading social studies and the school bus drove by. "Hey, it's time to stop! The other kids are done!" he tells me. I replied "Yes, but they started when you were still sleeping. And, they didn't get to play Mario Bros. today either...."

This flexibility offers other bonuses, too. Earlier this week, my son and I were both sidelined by sore throats. If he were still in public school, I would have kept him home for a sick day. This means I would have had to call in to the school and report his illness, answer the 20 questions that go along with calling in, and discuss the list of symptoms with the school nurse. I would have also played the mental math game and thought about how many days he's missed so far, how many days are left in the school year, can we "afford" to take a day, are there any tests or important lessons he would miss, etc. For some reason, this usually results in my feeling “guilty” for keeping him home for "just a sore throat." Fortunately, I didn’t have to do all this. I could concentrate on what mattered most - getting him well.

While we nursed each other back to health, the day was not totally lost from a schooling standpoint. Certain subjects were still accomplished, albeit more relaxed and with a slower pace. Reading was done while curled up with a blanket on the couch.

Obviously, the flexibility is a plus. However, it can also be a curse... from my son’s viewpoint, anyway. Our homeschool does not take days off for “professional development” or “teacher planning” (something our public school district does at least once per month). We also don’t follow the public school calendar when it comes to holidays. (Unless you have a federal job, MLK and President’s Days are work days for most everyone.) And lastly, we are still in session when everyone else has a “snow day!”

However, we do get to count sledding as physical education! :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Learning in your PJs


“Homeschooling?” you ask?

Yes, homeschooling!

Actually, it surprises me, too! A good surprise, though. The feeling you get when you know you’ve made the right decision.

In sharing this decision with others, it seems as if many think we may have rushed into pulling our son from the public school system, or didn’t otherwise think it through. This is definitely not the case. Honestly, our decision was YEARS in the making.

Elementary school was a roller coaster ride, with Drew’s success largely dependent upon factors out of our control – how well the regular education teacher understood autism, his/her relationship with Drew, Drew’s relationship with his para, how consistent the para was. The list goes on.

I should point out there were some awesome teachers and paras at the elementary level. Those years were a blessing. However, there were also some “jaw droppers.” These were teachers and other school staff that, frankly, left me floored as to why they were even employed to work with children in any way, shape or form. In these situations, we found ourselves saying “Gosh, I hope next year is better….” But I realized we were saying this almost every year in one way or another. We also found ourselves pointing out or asking common sense things of staff, like “Would you not allow him to tear up his clothing?” or “How did [x] happen with a para right there?” My husband I would look at each other and say “you know, we could do a better job….” But we never acted on these thoughts.

Then there were the annual IEP meetings. Every year in the Spring, we met with school staff to discuss the following school year’s IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. The IEP listed all of the accommodations and modifications that were needed for Drew during school, but also outlined what his autism looks like and how it affects him. These meetings, literally, were hell. Again, you go through the process of pointing out common sense things to the school staff about your child, which are then shot down by the “team” in favor of “better” ideas. These “better” ideas through the years have included Drew completing language arts worksheets to meet writing goals as opposed to actually (wait for it….) writing a paragraph. Again, my husband and I would think about homeschooling, but were too afraid. After all, public school is just what you did, right?

This current school year was the first at the middle school level. We met the previous Spring for the IEP to discuss what middle school would look like for Drew. In fact, we met for almost 6 hours over two different meeting dates! You would think in 6 hours, something would actually be accomplished. You would also think that, with as much time invested in the IEP, it would actually mean something. Well, you would be mistaken. The transition to middle school was awful. Drew was in school for one month before we pulled him. In that month, I sent many, many emails, met with teachers numerous times, and came to know the principal on a first-name basis. Also during that month, Drew experienced an entire week of after school detention, in-school suspension on at least two occasions, and also came to know the principal closely. Unfortunately, the principal didn’t bother to get to know us at all during this time. I highly suspect she never even read the latest IEP that took hours. The IEP “team” met an additional 3 times during this month, but changes never came to fruition. At the last meeting I attended, the principal (who had threatened out of school suspension) indicated that Drew just needed time to “get” how middle school works. My husband and I decided we “got” how middle school worked, and wanted no part in it.

So, here we are. We are now a few months into homeschooling, and are enjoying every minute of it! J Drew is enjoying it as well. I constantly ask myself why we didn’t do this sooner, especially when I think of all the time we wasted in public school, wishing things were better. But now, my time and efforts are better directed. Instead of hours beating my head against the wall, trying to work with school administration and staff, or preparing for IEP meetings, I am instead working directly with Drew in a way that is best suited to him. If something isn’t working or needs to be changed, we do it. No “team meeting” is necessary, and no arguing over the obvious. You know the adage – if you want it done right, do it yourself!

We are now in complete control of our son’s education. A very scary prospect, but also very empowering!