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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Homeschooling: Maintaining the Parent/Teacher and Child/Student Relationship

The other day I was chatting with friends about financially useless college degrees.  When I mentioned my own - painting - in the same breath as Brandon's very large life insurance policy, a friend looked at me surprised.  'I thought that you majored in education or something like that!  It seemed a natural fit since you are homeschooling Kathleen.'

I had a fit of giggles as I imagined myself majoring in something that involved... well... so many children and so much... well... teaching.  On the bottom ten list of favorite things that my college-aged self enjoyed those two things, children and teaching, probably would have been nine and ten.  Or maybe eleven.

Thankfully, we all have plenty of opportunity in our lives to change and learn and grow up.  And keep growing up.

Previous to my plunge into insanity I was excited about the opportunity it would give me to teach my children to love learning.  They would be freed from the classroom and social structure that tied them to the pace and interest level of the majority of the students.  I would be able to teach them of things in an interesting way that would spark their imagination and open new worlds to them.  They wouldn't see school as an endless set of hurdles merely to be gotten over.

What I didn't imagine was the actual mechanics involved: me as a teacher and my child as the student.

Any parent's relationship with their child is a complicated thing.  So many experiences and mistakes go into it that I don't think anyone involved in the relationship could even clearly describe it.  It's messy.  It's wonderful.  It's aggravating.  It is one of the best parts of your life.  It is one of the worst parts of your life.  You are so worried about messing them up.  You so want to mess them up.  You can be ready to throttle them and then five minutes later be cuddling together reading a story.

And now imagine trying to combine that with a teacher/child relationship.

Here's a fact I've learned about children: they like learning until they don't like it.  Kathleen will read any nonfiction book about horses she can get her hands on, but when I make her play the piano with a metronome (horror! torture!) she sits on the piano wracked with sobs so painful one would think I've been beating her.  Sophia loves to draw.  But writing?  Let her make L the way she wants (sloppy, imprecise but with amazing gusto) and she'll do them all day.  But make her start at the top left-hand corner and trace the dotted lines (torture! horror!) and she screams like she's been belted.

I wonder if regular teachers have to deal with this.  Surely not.  Maybe they do?  I don't remember very clearly any more.

And then of course there's back-talking and the endless, endless arguing that crops up every time someone is being made to do something they don't want to.  Imagine the trouble you get when you ask your child to clean their room.  And then imagine it with math.  If it's too much fuss to get the child to clean their room, there really aren't that many consequences - sure the room's a disaster but it will get cleaned up eventually even if you're the one to do it (we all do it).  But math?  If the kid doesn't do their math, next thing you know that Harvard dream is down the tubes.  A lot is at stake.

Ninety percent of the time school goes very smoothly.  Kathleen knows the schedule, she knows the inevitability of school, and after she is torn away from arranging another block paddock for her horses, she really enjoys most of it.  Do you remember the first time you learned about how mummies were made?  It's really cool.  And did you know that elephant's skulls are hollow like bird bones?  There really are a lot of amazing things to learn.

But then there's the other ten percent.  Yesterday had the week's ten percent crammed into two back-to-back episodes with Kathleen and Sophia.  Sophia was wanting to write letters in her own, defiant, incorrect style.  Kathleen refused to believe me when I told her she was playing her piano song incorrectly.  Both encounters involved tears and screaming and every single last ounce of my patience being squeezed out of my soul.

After I finally gave up on the piano - I'm not interested in having any world class musicians in the family anyway - I had had it.  I stood in the middle of the living room glaring at Kathleen on the piano bench and Sophia on the couch.  I extended my finger, pointing in turn to each mute child.

"This has gone far enough.  I am no longer going to put up with being talked back to, argued with, told I'm wrong, and ignored.  If you are going to learn from me, you need to treat me like a teacher!  You are not the teacher! I am!  You are the student!  I am the teacher! You are the student!  So when I ask you to do something, you do it!  When I tell you something is incorrect it's wrong!  If we're going to make homeschooling work, you have to listen to me!!!"

And then I threw in the ultimate threat, the one that makes the blood run cold in Kathleen's veins and causes her to beg for mercy, "Because if this doesn't work I'll have to send you to traditional school!!!"

Schoolwork resumed with much chastened pupils.  Sobs were smothered.  Lessons were attended to.  School finished pleasantly with a history chapter about Sargon of Akkadia.

This morning Sophia didn't fuss about where to start drawing her J's and Kathleen meekly turned on the metronome to practice.  Peace and harmony reigned in the school room.

I'll now take bets on how long it will last.


Jan said...

Funny...I seem to remember another piano student that hated the metronome and thought I was a horrible teacher for making her play certain pieces. Glad to see what goes around, comes around. :-)

I enjoy reading your blog and I still can see you as a child--even though you are all grown up and have children of your own. And your daughters will be as amazing as you are because you stood your ground!

PaulaJean said...

Grandchildren are your mother's revenge. :-)

Just US said...

My saying has now become "do you want to be home schooled next year?"