When I left my career nine years ago to stay home with Grace I struggled deeply with defining my sense of self. When I walked out of my classroom and closed the door behind me for the final time, I became “just” a mom. Where would I find value? How would others perceive me? I shied away from parties, especially those me and my husband would go to in Manhattan where his coworkers would ask what I did for a living. How did I answer that now?.....uh....um....I am just a mom? How silly, no how stupid I was. How could I have thought so little of the role of mother? Sadly, it took me about a year to let go of who I was and start to embrace the person I was becoming.
I see so much of myself in my daughter. For seven of her ten years she has been in some form of organized school where she has thrived. She defined herself within the confines of school. She received positive praise. She competed successfully for stellar grades. She was awarded prizes. She defined herself as a “student”. Notice, I did not say “learner”. Nope. She is a student.
Now removed from school, and the built in systems of rewards, that can range from expected rewards such as an A on a paper, to subtle rewards like extra time on the computer for finishing homework to the overt reward like a pizza party for those few student who worked “extra” hard on the CMT tests, she is lost. Literally lost. Since she values herself as a student, these rewards center her. An A means all is well. Time on the fence for missing a signature in her assignment pad is bad. Pizza party is good. Losing time off recess for talking is bad. Getting cubes for compliments given by other adults is good. Principal picking you out of a crowd because you are talking in the cafeteria after the lights are off signaling quiet is bad. See what I mean? They direct your sense of worth. Get good rewards, praise and attention, and your confidence as a student goes up. Grace got all these things, and more.
At home I do not have a compliment jar but I do not send them to our fence when they do not complete work assigned. I do not give standardized tests but I do host pizza parties every now and then! But to Grace, her sense of self is diminished. She has no litmus test. Now she is saying things like I am a bad writer because I told her that she could add details to latest piece of writing. She now hates math, which was her strongest subject. She sees her sister reading at the same level as her (which is a perfect level for her) and that must mean she is not a good reader. I feel like I am starting with a kindergartner, a child who is not sure what to do and where to go. All because she has come to define herself as a student, not a learner.
A student gets an A on a test. A learner realizes even with an A there is still more to absorb. A student can line up in the hallway and be quiet. A learner can interview a stranger. A student remembers her assignment pad. A learner does not need an assignment pad because the learning never stops. A student knows test taking strategies. A learner knows how to read for knowledge. A student’s day ends at 3:30 or whenever the homework is done. A learner is always seeking to feed her brain.
So how do I make the paradigm shift from student to learner? How do I make her understand that homeschooling is not school? She is no longer a student. She is a girl. She is a sister. She is a daughter. She is a granddaughter and niece and a great-niece. She is an athlete. She is a musician. She is a friend. She is a naturalist. She is a thinker. She is a writer. She is a planner. She is all these things and more. She is now a learner. I want her to feel as confident about that as she is about all the other things that make her who she is.