Thursday, February 20, 2014

what they didn't say: on teaching at home

It'll be fun, they said.

You'll get to be with them all day long, they said.

Shape their little minds, they said.

It'll be so rewarding, they said.

I field so many questions from my friends about homeschooling, mostly because we married and had kids really young and I have about five more years of parenting under my proverbial belt than most of my peers. 

How does it work? (It works as hard as you work)

What do you use? (every brain cell I possess)

When should I start? (you started teaching your child the day you birthed him)

Do you distrust public education? (um, no, I envy that option many days and admire people who pour their lives out, underpaid and overworked)

It is a privilege to teach our children and we love this opportunity.  For our family, the rewards and benefits far outweigh  the work load, the burden, the difficulties.  But shame on me if I sugar coat the reality of hanging out the school shingle on the front door of your little house.

It's a good thing I counted the cost before I started because if I were counting on the glowing promises of what they said I would have quit teaching on Jacob's third day of kindergarten.

Homeschooling proponents raise visions of cozy library corners, energizing, engaging science experiments over the kitchen counter, throwing some laundry in while your kids do math tests (ah! multitasking at its finest!), the freedom to instill character and values.  They tout flexibility and movement and room to breathe and time for the individual attention so necessary for a child to achieve success. 

With reviews like that, who wouldn't be interested?

And people are interested.  Dissatisfied with a mass production approach to education, many are intrigued by the success and seeming ease of choosing a curriculum and following an educational path at home.  With Monday-Friday, 9-5 workforce demographics rapidly changing as employers grow more flexible and employees work unconventional hours (and from home), homeschooling can seem like an apple ripe for the picking.

Count the cost before you pick the apple. 

It's not a light decision to take your children's education into your trembling hands. 

Teach them character?  That's a nice idea:  the main teacher of that will be you.  With your life.  You just signed up to be the major influence on their value system.  How's your value system?

Are you grumpy?

They will be crabby.

Are you unmotivated?

They'll be lazy.

Do you dislike and avoid art?

They'll never know what it is to create beauty with their own hands.

Who you are will be mirrored in your students.

What you love is what you'll emphasize.

When you teach those little people, their eyes see who you are on Saturday and Sunday, too, and after 3 pm, and before you start teaching in the morning.  They see all of you. 

That kind of transparency can be good. It can be bad.  It can be ugly and beautiful all in the space of an hour. 

So here's a little list of what they don't say.

They don't say:

You'll wake up every morning with the burden of your children's education resting in your hands.

You'll have to spend as much time sorting out disputes and arguments and attitudes as you do teaching.

You'll find any shred of flexibility you had stretched far beyond what you thought your limits were.

You won't be able to finish a sentence because your toddler will have a catastrophe or your washing machine starts overflowing: though you're teaching, you aren't in school.

When you hang up your teaching hat, exhausted, your mom hat is right there waiting and sometimes you feel utterly spent and too tired to put it on.

They don't tell you:

You'll be teaching about respiration and lungs and airways and the diaphragm and then you'll be interrupted with a howl because the two year old pulled the unsuspecting six year old's hair.  You'll hypothetically discipline the two year old, who will then proceed to throw his crayola marker, bright pink inky side down, into the cream colored carpet.  Then you'll deal with that and turn back to the diaphragm. But by then you'll feel like your own airway might be blocked.

You have to be okay with your home littered with crayons, paper shreds, art supplies, pencils, piles of books, in a constant treadmill of shelving and unshelving your little ones' education. 

They don't tell you how inadequate you'll feel, how little actual support you'll get, how lonely you can be as a woman: it's sometimes difficult to explain why you're working a full time job that generates zero dollars.

They don't tell you about the sheer work volume, how self motivated you need to be: you are the boss of you.  You decide your hours, you're as free as a breeze with one massive caveat:  your children's educational success or failure is your employee evaluation and that's a stunning burden to carry.  No one tells you how heavy that burden is.

Why would they?

The truth, the agony, the loneliness, the monotony- why would anyone want to sign up for that? No one would.

And as with many choices in life, the rewards outweigh the pain.

So we choose to remember sweaty hands grasping first pencils and warm little bodies snuggled up against us on the couch, lisping first words and then sentences and then books, the math reward lunches, the lack of homework in the evenings since we've already accomplished it, the joy of watching the lightbulb moments of our own children, the stretching of our own minds as we teach theirs.

But if you're considering reaping the rewards, it's important to count the cost.

It is not easy.

It is 3% fun and 97% labor.

It is surely the hardest and most demanding task of my life.

I am absolutely giving it my all.

Wherever you are, be all there.
Jim Elliot
. . .and while He gives me breath, I will tell only the truth.
Job 27: 3-4
Jesus said,
No procrastination.
No backward looks.
You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow.
Seize the day.
Luke 9:62 The Message


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  2. You are doing well. Giving it your all is all you are asked. Excellent post! thank you for sharing your heart! I have so many thoughts on this…. I'll have to organize them sometime. ;) Our children's education, no matter what schooling option God leads us to, is an incredible responsibility. It can feel very weighty, and I guess it should. It is only through Him that we can find the strength to do what we are asked, and to shape their little hearts to run towards Jesus.

  3. This is complete genius and absolutely true. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Wow. You hit the nail on the head. I can totally relate to it all! Trading the teacher hat for the mom hat....or wearing both at the same time, how's that?;)

  5. Your lovely Grandma posted your blog link, and as a veteran/"retired" homeschool mom, I had to read it. What can I say? Everything you posted is absolutely true. We began homeschooling when homeschooling was not "cool". My peers thought we were NUTS. There were a lot of times when I THOUGHT WE WERE NUTS! Now people compliment me on how wonderful "my" daughters are, and I just smile. I know it has NOTHING to do with ME, but EVERYTHING to do with the Lord's goodness to us all. HANG IN THERE! There is nothing greater, harder, or more rewarding than being with your children. They grow up WAY too fast.

  6. Love this post - you could have been talking about our house! :) Thanks for being real about the struggles and at the same time sharing hope and encouragement and remembering those rewarding moments of success!!

  7. Love this!! I'm in our first year of homeschooling and sometimes I wonder if its worth it. But then I remember that God says to teach and train our children and for us that means homeschooling. Its not for everybody but it is for us, some days I'm not sure I can do it but with Gods help I know I can. Its encouraging to hear about other homeschooling moms. Lorraine Roggie

  8. Thank you for being real about homeschooling! I homeschooled for seven years. There was good and bad in it. God called me out of homeschooling (yes, he had to pry my children from my death grip of control I had on my children) and asked me if I would trust him with my kids in public school. I couldn't believe it. How could this be? I KNOW I was called to homeschool. But circumstances had changed in our home and I knew I couldn't homeschool if I was never home and I couldn't give 100% to my children. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. God has faithfully protected my children and I try to be involved in the school as much as I can. Now I know the good, the bad and the ugly of both forms of education. People ask do I regret homeschooling. No. People ask do I regret putting my kids in public school. No. I can see the good and bad in both and I know that God has a plan that is bigger than mine.

    Thanks for being real!!! I get real tired of the perfect impression people give. It is so deceiving to anyone who might be thinking about it. There were days were I disciplined more than I taught. Many, many, many days like that...