Friday, July 2, 2010

Thoughts on Education.....

I became a teacher fifteen years ago so that someday I would have the confidence to be able to teach my own children at home. Of course I did not know this at the time. I only knew I wanted out of corporate America, having had one bad experience after another at each company I was employed by. At the time I was a mentor with the I Have A Dream Foundation, mentoring a third grade girl who I utterly adored. I thought I would be a good teacher, and I was. Every ounce of my energy, my efforts and my intellect was poured into my classroom. How was I to know that my long held plan to be a working parent would dissolve the moment I thought of placing my six month old daughter in day care? I finished out the school year, nine years ago, and have never really thought of going back into a public school classroom. Not because I lost my love of teaching, but because I felt that I gave the best of myself to other people’s children and have very little of me left to give to my own. Time passed, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly but really just ticking away at the same pace every second, every minute, every hour for the next nine years and here I am today, cleaning out my attic, discarding four oversized file boxes full of teaching material.

As I went through file folder after file folder, I was not taken by the memories of seeing my old student’s photographs, poems and artwork but rather with the amount of material I had accumulated for the annual CMT review. I taught third grade at a very avant-garde school district. There was a curriculum guide to follow but no mandated resources to use. It was at the discretion of each teacher to pick and choose what he or she thought would work best for her teaching style, and the cumulative learning styles in the classroom. I remember using Marilyn Burns for math, Awakening the Heart for poetry, Mosaic of Thought and Junior Great Books for reading and a hodgepodge of materials for science and social studies. I taught cursive through copywork and we often had art projects intermixed in our daily learning. When I reflect back upon it, it was much like homeschooling, but with twenty children instead of two.

Somehow into this wonderful world of eclectic education, the CMT started to intrude. It came slowly to this district, who was known for high performing students and for whom the CMTs were never given much thought to, other than as a prep at the end of third grade so the children knew what the test looked like. It was the feeling at the time, that the new push for No Child Left Behind may raise up low performing schools, but it would also bring down high performing schools, where the uniqueness and creativity of the teachers would be traded for routine, mundane drills and skills teaching. It was at this time that I left teaching and came home to be with my daughter.

Today as I was sorting through the files, I quietly questioned if I had made the right choice by homeschooling. My children are not getting a drills and skills education. They are not doing monthly writing prompts scored by two teachers and logged for future reference. They are not doing DRP tests and meeting with tutors to work on higher ordered thinking questions. They are not chanting the song they learned last year called “test me, test me, I am ready!”. Instead they are learning about ancient history, chronicling their learning in a book of centuries and visiting museums with wonderful exhibits on Egypt. They are attending nature classes, studying at the Audubon centers, tagging horsehoe crabs and building salamander habitats. They are keeping nature journals recording their observations, noting the details of the weather and temperature of each outing. My girls are memorizing poems by noted poets such as Langston Hughes and Charlotte Zolotow. They are pursuing their passions in cooking and weather. They breathe fresh air daily and wake when their bodies are ready. They eat when they are hungry and rest when they are tired. It is a wonderful life.

Yet, as I poured through the CMT information a fear was gnawing inside of me. Will they be able to compete for scholarships to the schools they wish to attend without yearly testing? Will their homemade transcript and portfolio look as good next to a public school transcript? Will their experiences, so vastly different than those of their peers get them to Yale or Harvard or Juliard or The New York Culinary Institute or Parsons School of Design, if that is where they desperately want to study?

I believe it will. I believe that the very definition of education,the knowledge or skills obtained or developed by a learning process, are not by nature contained within the four walls of a classroom. The knowledge and skills my children are aquiring come from inside our home, as well as our surrounding community. The course of study may be different, the pedagogy of teaching may be different, the proof of learning certainly will be different but it will be as valid, even more so because they had a say in developing their course of study. Their interests, passions and talents are taken into consideration when I plan and develop our curriculum. They exhibit learning every single day.

I am glad I had the opportunity to sort through my old things. For they are old. They no longer represent who I am as an educator and as a learner. The pathway of education we have chosen may not be conventional, but it is natural. It may not be traditional, but it is holistic. It may not be standard, but it is transformational.

I am my children’s teacher.


mamak said...

I think I love you, or at the very least like you a whole lot. And let me just say, that even as a parent who has no school experience from children ever attending a school, that fear shows it's ugly head now and then. As my children grow and show me daily that they are very capable learners, my trust in their autodidacity grows. The fear does not come so often anymore. You have deeper roots in education than I, as you were a trained teacher. But your children will tug gently at that root system until you are free to move around like they are. Really, learning, true learning, is all about freedom

Mama Teaching 2 said...

I just have no words! Excellant bloggy post, my friend. Excellant!

Hen Jen said...

lovely post, you really inspired me to keep going. I think almost all homeschool moms have their moments of quiet self-doubt.

This would be a great post to enter at the carnival of homeschooling, so many others could enjoy it and be encouraged too!

Theresa said...

Great post! And I can relate. After a brief stint in corporate America, I taught pre-school for several years. Although we weren't prepping for any tests, the idea was to get these children ready for school. I left for the same reasons you did: I was giving so much of myself to other people's children. I loved being a stay at home mom.

As you know, I have researched homeschooling for two years. I have the very same fears as you. Everything I have read indicates that colleges respect home education, homeschooled children get into good schools. There is a part of me that strongly believes that homeschooling by its very nature prepares children more for college than traditional schooling. There is also a part of me that feels that college admissions officers, by their very nature and the surroundings in which they work, may just feel that homeschooling better prepares students than traditional schooling.

It is a little overwhelming to feel wholly responsible for your children's education, but it also feels liberating to be free of the restraints of NCLB.

If it were not for NCLB, I do not know if I would even be considering this. Sometimes I wonder if the courses I took in education were just enough knowledge to make me very uncomfortable with NCLB.

Joyful Learner said...

Love love this!

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