Friday, February 15, 2008

School Wars

I am learning things about public education that I never thought I would have to learn. I grew up going to a church-run school. I graduated from high school there, and went to a small college. I had absolutely NO experience with public education. I went to private school. All my friends went to private school.

My husband grew up going to one private school, and transferred to another one for high school. He also went to the small college. All of his friends also went to private schools.

We fully intended to homeschool our children. But, life happened. We needed more money than hubby could make, and I went to work, which meant I wasn't able to be home to school the kids. Our eldest was put into kindergarten and then 1st grade in a public school. It was an excellent school, with small classes, good teachers, and a Japanese teacher who came in and taught the kindergarteners Japanese! We moved a couple of months into that school year, and put her into another school, where my brother worked. She went there for 5 months, and we moved again. Three schools in one year's time?!? I don't think so. I can do this. I homeschooled for the 2 1/2 years we were in Texas. During that time, we added in 2 more children that were school aged, and I worked with them, teaching them all the beginning basics.

We moved to Montana, and I homeschooled them there for the first year. Then I had to go back to work, and couldn't manage homeschooling and working nights. Somehow Mama had to stay sane. By this time, the eldest was going into 6th grade, #2 was going into 3rd, and #3 was going into 2nd. The middle school was no problem. The elementary school really was good.

Child number 2 ("number 2" from The Kids Next Door) had problems reading. He had fought me on EVERY thing we did. I despaired of him ever learning to read. I clung to the notion of the "light bulb moment" that often comes for boys around 5th grade. I still do. That child was reading on a kindergarten level when he entered 3rd grade. During that year, the school paid for a Sylvan Learning Center teacher to work with him (and others). He progressed amazingly. During that year, he went from a kindergarten reading level, all the way to a 3rd grade level. I was amazed and VERY grateful. There was NO WAY we'd have been able to pay for Sylvan on our own!

Fourth grade went okay. No bad grades. Some bad attitudes, but those come and go.

Fifth grade, we moved in November. No more teachers who knew him. No more Sylvan. New school district. New expectations. New teachers.

This year has been a challenge for #2. He has not understood what the new teachers expected of him. He has dealt with classmates who decided they didn't like him because he was new. We just got his first report card from this school, and he is making Ds in Reading, Social Studies, and Science (he's making As in Math!--like father, like son!). The school asked for a conference with us, and are planning on doing testing on him, to see what can be done to help him.

Of course, through all of this, I am questioning myself. Did I somehow fail him? Is the teacher's attitude toward me (that *I* should be doing more with him now than I already am) right? Is this our fault? If we pulled him back out of school, and homeschooled him again, would he do better? Should we try to scrape together the money to pay for Sylvan or something similar?

And the guilt....oh, the guilt. I don't want him to fail. I don't want him to develop some kind of complex about his intelligence. This kid is brilliant. We know that. He KNOWS the materials. He's just not doing well on their busy work and the way that they test him. How to change that?!?

And then, there are the comparisons. I know kids do this. I did it. My brothers did it. My husband did it. Kids always compare themselves to their siblings, friends, classmates. So, #1 child is the best student in the family. She loves school, and thrives. She was devestated that she made B's on things during the semester of school when we moved. Then there's #3...she does well in school, too. She's in 4th grade, and is the VERY artistic child in the family. She also makes mostly do #4 and #5.... I don't want #2 to feel that he's less loved, or somehow less valued because his grades aren't on the same level.

So, where does this leave me? What CAN I do that will make a difference for him? What do you guys think?


Krista said...

I know I don't know you, but give yourself a hug. I know how much you need it whenever this matter arises.

Although I only have two little guys, I know exactly what kind of doubts and worries are going through your mind. My oldest is academically-challenged (diagnosed 1/5 years ago with ADHD by the most renowned facilty in our state while testing for learning disabilities). My youngest is not. Everything comes much easier for my 1st Grader than it does for my 4th Grader. And my oldest knows it. He's commented on it.

Like you, my husband and I have spent many nights struggling to find answers. We, too, thought about homeschooling - which isn't really a viable option - or placing him into a private school. So far we've kept him in the public school, though. It's been tough. And we don't expect it to get easier.

Because I share your concerns about self-perception and self-esteem, I try to make sure I make as big a deal over his B or C scores as I do over his brother's A or B scores. I also try to reinforce with him that I am aware of his strengths and abilities that make him unique. I also let him know that everyone has their own special talents. Not to mention that everyone has things they're not so good at: like mom sucks at math or can't make a basket to save her life. :-)

Sometimes I think its as much about positive reinforcement as it is about discipline.

Sorry this got so long. As you can see I have a lot of things to say on this subject!

forgetfulone said...

No you didn't fail him. No, you don't need to feel guilty, but you will, because you're a mom and that's what we do. Just try not to! I teach in public schools, and I admire the men and women who can homeschool their kids with success. I'm a teacher, and I couldn't do it for my own children! It takes discipline and patience, which I don't have enough of with my own children. Whether you're homeschooling, in private school, or in public school, every child is different, and what meets one's needs might not meet another's needs. This is part of what makes decisions so much more difficult. I really don't have any advice, just a listening ear, and I'm glad I was here to read your post.