Wednesday, September 9, 2015

School: An Update



In order to protect my nerves and sanity I hadn’t let myself imagine it too much. My preconceived notions of what the girls’ first days of public school might include were largely shaped by my own experiences some 25 years ago plus a few good and bad stories I’d heard from experienced teacher friends. I acknowledge that this apprehension about something so daily for millions of children is ridiculous, akin to a mid-westerners avoidance of the ocean for fear of a shark attack. So on that first day of school I dove in and nearly forgot to watch for looming fins or ominous music, and no sharks have bitten as of yet.

My socialite, Carolyn, came home with a catalog of friends and very little recollection of any learning taking place. A big fan of the hot lunches, as well as the accompanying lunch room drama, she is LOVING school. Despite being stung by a wasp on recess, rehearsing the intruder drill (this terrifies me), and having to make friends with a sea of new faces she remains unruffled. To her, the biggest challenge thus far is in solving why one of the boys in her class doesn’t seem to enjoy her company. Day-after-day she makes a point to compliment his outfit or ask how he is enjoying his lunch and she seems to be met with eye-rolls and short responses. This will not do and thus she is on a personal mission to get to the bottom of his contempt; and I’m fairly certain she will (it might hurt a little). She has a fantastic teacher who appreciates her outgoing nature and free-spirit, not to mention having a host of fun activities planned for the year that kind of make me want to go back to fifth grade myself.

My introverted-academic, Julia, has struggled just a bit. She is not a fan (at all) of recess. By the fourth day of school she was a puddle of tears at the thought of braving the asphalt for twenty long minutes of friendship attempts. Her teacher and librarian worked together to find a solution in which she volunteers in the library during recess and she couldn’t be more pleased. By the ninth day she was doubled-over in tummy aches with anxiety yet again. This took a bit more digging, but with the help of wise family members and her fantastic teacher, we discovered that her perfectionism does not like the long wait between taking a test and seeing the results. This unknown waiting, coupled with the fact that her math assessment test was computerized and became harder the better she did, she had contrived a story in her sweet, anxious mind that she had failed her very difficult math assessment horribly thus the tummy aches and tears. Once we were able to talk through her results with her teacher her shoulders relaxed and her smile returned. Now we know: it’s hard to wait for test results when you’re a perfectionist!

Thus far I’ve observed several things:

1. School is really very different from when I was in 3rd and 5th grade. Obviously Oregon Trail has come a long way, but seriously the integration of technology is super exciting to me. Gamification for learning spelling words, exploring far-away places on Google Earth, even the adaptive testing all engage their learning so much more deeply than I remember. What’s more, the classroom is much more autonomous, with options to explore multiple avenues of learning and interests rather than being glued to your seat for the duration of the day. (I feel like my elementary education was a bit dull with the exception of Exchange City and that time our teacher read us the Orphan Train Quartet by kerosene lamp which I thought was all things that school should be and more, please also note that I fully acknowledge my memory could be extremely jaded and amiss).

2. I am not as worried about their grades as I thought I would be. This is probably one of the many blessings that homeschooling bestowed, because there were no grade cards I just enjoyed watching them grow as learners and seeing their enthusiasm for certain (but admittedly not all) subjects. Carolyn was riveted by Greek Mythology and World History, she begged to do science experiments even when it wasn’t school time. Julia flew through her math and loved to master the next problem or skill, she could write a poem or story that made her proud and want to share it over dinner or display it on the fridge. Brandon did grade tests regularly, but without a permanent record in some dusty school file it didn’t define them and only reflected progress rather than merit or worth. For me, a recovering perfectionist myself, grades are still important especially as they progress to higher levels, but I am not going to freak out about B’s (maybe even C’s) like I thought I would. In fact, my brother once told me that he would hate to be my kid because he was sure I’d be a tyrant about grades, and I agreed with him. I'm a growing learner too it seems.

3. It is exhausting. While homeschooling is a whole lot of work, Brandon bore the brunt of it and everything was generally wrapped up and put away before I ever got home each night. The flexible schedule allowed for piano and skating lessons to take place during the day as well, so our evenings were free. Lunch was at noon at home, no pre-packing or planning required on my part. Matching outfits were not necessary, nor shoes. There were also no backpacks filled with forms to fill out or homework to review and sign on a nightly basis. While Brandon was planning and executing the hard work of daily lessons I was blissfully unaware of the ins-and-outs of daily education and now I see that It.Is.Exhausting. To all of the teachers, homeschooling parents, and single mamas out there – kudos and a deep bow. I am impressed and in awe and exhausted just thinking about it.

Generally I am really impressed and grateful at the start the girls have had this year. They are excited, they have fantastic teachers, and there have been very few tears. The children in their school are all very kind, no bullies, no shark attacks. And they are growing as learners and friends. To everyone who has texted, called, and prayed – thank you. I am amazed by the friends and family who care so deeply for my girls and for their worried mama!

1 comment:

Jenn Beard said...

Seriously, you need to write a book!