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This year has been one of change for me. In January, I left teaching to follow a dream and move with my family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. Since then, we have been homeschooling our two kids.
When we were telling my family about our decision to leave mainstream life behind, they were – not surprisingly – skeptical. One of my dad’s questions was, “How can you take the kids out of school like that?” My answer was that the reason that I could take my kids out of public school was that I had spent sixteen years teaching in a public school and I knew exactly what they would be in for.
They had wonderful teachers, and their old school was just ranked best in the state, but still, I knew that I wanted to get them out.
This year, we have also joined a homeschool co-op. What this means is that the kids are home in the morning, mostly working on math and ELA, and then in the afternoons, they go to three different places to do school with three to four other kids. Mondays and Wednesdays they do geography, music, and drama, Tuesdays are science and art, and on Thursdays, I am teaching poetry for now (and maybe Shakespeare soon).
There are obviously lots of differences between teaching my own two kids and teaching 100 or so seventeen-year-olds. But these are the major differences for me:
We spend way way more time outdoors. Before, in their excellent elementary school, my kids spent a total of 30 minutes outside each day—and that included the time that it took them to get dressed, line up, and wait to go outside. The only time that I was outdoors was walking from my car to the school and back. I never ate lunch or went outside during a free period because I didn’t even want to know if the weather was nice. My cinder-block room had a broken shade that stayed down permanently. I was better off not even thinking about what it was like out there.
But now, the kids play outside for hours at a time, I am constantly walking to places or working in the garden during a school break. It seems that half of their lessons, either with me or in their other co-op classes, involve going outside to observe natural phenomena. Once, they even helped with the sorghum harvest. I get to create poetry lessons that teach an appreciation of the natural world and spend time with my kids observing grasshoppers and writing poetry about them.
I can follow a curriculum—or not. We found a great math series that involves puzzles and challenging word problems, and we have followed it to the letter. But when it comes to language arts, we are mostly making it up as we go along. If I want to do a unit on growth mindset, I can. There’s no need to do work that we don’t see as valuable, so we don’t.
My kids actually eat lunch. This is huge for me. The only thing more tiring than packing lunches every day for school was packing lunches that never got eaten. Now, I get to make them a hot lunch and sit with them while they eat it.
It’s often more difficult to get one six-year-old to do his work than it was to get a class full of teenagers to do theirs. Not everything is easier now than it was before. Sometimes I miss the simple days of no negotiation. Now that I am teaching my own kids, it’s more complicated. And they’re not out the door after 55 minutes.
I trust that they will get what they need. I am able to let them lead me rather than tell them what they have to do all the time. For example, one of the trickiest areas has been getting my daughter to write. I tried to assign paragraphs or essays or stories. Each time, the battle ended in tears. But when I saw an email that she had typed to a friend, and when it contained a comma for a direct address and a correctly used semi colon, I knew that my ten-year-old would be fine in the writing department. She might not want to do what I want her to do when I want it, but she will learn what she needs.I trust my kids will get what they need Click To Tweet
It’s fun and challenging and sort of crazy to make this big change. But I never wanted to be one of those teachers just hanging on until retirement. When I started to sour on the profession, I got out. I’ve had to learn a whole new set of skills for sure. But it has been an adventure.