Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes

Well, it’s official. I’m going back to teaching. Despite having said many times that I would never again be a teacher, I have changed my mind. Starting in September, I will be moving into a new position as an elementary teacher. Though I will have essentially 8 preps, as I’m teaching both Kindergarten and 4th grade, I’m super excited to begin this new chapter of my life. You’re probably wondering what school could possibly have one teacher teaching two separate elementary grade levels. It really is not very traditional, after all. Well, I can proudly tell you the name of the school is Mergler Homeschool.

Wait, come again?

Oh, no, you read that correctly. I’ll be moving into homeschooling my kiddos for the upcoming school year, and likely many more after that. Yes, my husband supports this plan. No, it wasn’t an easy or quick decision. And no, it’s not right for everyone. But it’s right for us, and that’s all that matters.

You see, we’ve taken pains to raise our children thus far with the mindset that they mustn’t  follow the crowd just because everyone else is doing something. We’ve prided ourselves in showing and encouraging individualism and promoting walking down the road “wanting wear”. And it has become increasingly evident that public school was not matching our values.

Lily has always been naturally curious and has genuinely enjoyed learning new things. And Ollie was very obviously following in her footsteps. From the outside, Lily’s honor roll grades, and Ollie’s enthusiasm for Pre-K might seem like the ideal situation. But I can tell you that the insider’s perspective tells a very different story. Lily has been bringing home worksheet after worksheet after worksheet for years now. And it’s not because she’s had terrible teachers. She has had, in fact, several wonderful, caring teachers. But because the climate of education has changed in the last decade, the teachers have had to do things in their classroom that they wouldn’t have done otherwise if not for the pressure put upon them. Hell, I know this firsthand.  (Yes, education has been constantly changing. Let’s not argue about this. But the last decade has seen some particularly unfortunate changes to how teaching and learning take place.) And because of these changes, I’ve seen my bright and inquisitive daughter slowly begin to dislike school. Instead of smiles and excitement about what she’d done each day, she’s begun complaining about what they don’t do, and how many worksheets they have to complete. When my mother asked her what she was doing in all of her subjects, she replied that they only do math and reading now because of the state test. Not ok.

But like so many people, I was afraid to even imagine an alternative. Kids get to a certain age, and then you send them off to school. And you encourage them to do all their work, don’t get in trouble, and in doing so, make you proud. You, essentially, choose to have children, and then leave them in the hands of other people and environments for most of their day. And then you deal with, potentially, rectifying the unwanted changes school makes. Why? Why do we give up this power? And if school seems less than ideal, you just shrug it off as “Well, that’s how it is sometimes.” Nothing is perfect. And though schools and teachers try their hardest, nothing can ever be what every kid needs. That’s the truth. That’s just how it is. But it doesn’t have to be.

You see, that’s just the thing. There are options. Some parents move their family to a school district that better represents what’s important to them. Some families attend private or Catholic schools. And now, some are even able to stay within the city by sending their kids to a charter school. So many options. And these options are very rarely, if ever, questioned, frowned upon, or cause a shifty, sideways glance from others. Yet, another alternative–homeschooling–very often is. What about socialization?? Aren’t they going to grow up to be weird?? Are they really going to learn anything?? Aren’t you sheltering them too much?? Won’t you get sick of each other?? How are they going to learn to get along with others?? I could continue, but I think you get the point.

The point is that there are so many valid questions to be asked of any schooling situation, but we’ve become so accustomed to the norm of public schooling. When someone decides that his/her child will be beginning school in their district, there is seldom any feedback other than “Oh, how nice.” Yet when a parent chooses to do something out of the norm for his/her child, there is an almost immediate storm of questioning and opinion giving.

With all due respect, my readers, please don’t bother. Because, believe me, I have done my fair share of research on this topic. I’ve joined homeschooling groups and talked to other parents. I’ve read scholarly articles on the subject, as well as firsthand accounts from parents and children. I’ve researched curriculum, and standards, and benchmarks for each grade. I’ve sought out cooperatives, classes, playgroups, and activities for the kids to join. My parents and in-laws have graciously paid for memberships to the science museum, art gallery, and aquarium for the kids to use as places to learn and socialize (And we’ll work on the zoo and botanical gardens as well). I have taken this transition so very seriously that there is honestly nothing anyone can say, particularly someone who either hasn’t  lived it or researched it, that will change our minds. There are so many myths and false perceptions surrounding homeschooling that I understand why some may be concerned. But I assure everyone who knows us and loves our children, we would never, ever do something that is not in their best interests.

And what is in their best interest right now is pulling them out of a system that is killing their desire to learn and grow in the way that is best for both of them individually. I have the ability to cater to their needs and interest in a way that school never could. And I also have the benefit of knowing my children so well, that I know what types of activities would be best to play up their strengths and remediate their areas of weakness. I can, and will, integrate play-based learning and art-integration lessons, and so much cross-curricular units that so much of school won’t feel like what we think of school at all. I have time and the flexibility to include field trips on a weekly basis, and time to allow for independent reading and self-selected projects. I can let my kids be kids. Not test scores. Not statistics. Not robots. Not cogs in the wheel. They can be who they are, in all their complicated wonderfulness.

And so I put this out here to you simply as a request for understanding, caring, and support as we move from one type of lifestyle to another. Both of the kids are incredibly excited to begin this next phase of their schooling (Shockingly, convincing them was the easiest part!). One of the most beautiful parts of homeschooling, in my opinion, is the movement back to the concept of it taking a village to raise children. My kids will be so lucky to benefit from the wisdom, knowledge, humor, interests, and experiences of everyone in our lives. And we would love to have guest teachers for workshops, classes, or just some hanging out time anytime there is interest in doing so. And of course we also just look forward to your love and presence in our lives. And if anyone wants to have a sincere conversation about more reasons why homeschooling is the right option for us, or would like resources to do research of their own, feel free to let me know.

But for now you’ll have to excuse me, as I have a lot of planning to do before September!


Catching Up

Twenty minutes each to respond to both day 3’s and day 4’s challenges. I think I might go off the beaten path on these.

Day 3’s challenge was to write about 3 songs that mean a lot to you. Because I like music as much as the average person, but don’t feel any particular kindred spirit within it, I felt this post would be ultimately meaningless to me.

So instead, I will write about 3 books that mean a lot to me, and that will have to suffice.

Number 1: To Kill a Mockingbird. Ah, how cliche, you might be thinking. And sure, it’s one of the most widely reported favorite books in America. But here’s the deal with me and this book: we go way back. Like back to 8th grade. I don’t quite remember how my hands got on this book at this time because my teacher didn’t have us read it in class.But read it I did. With little appreciation, I’m afraid.

So when I stumbled upon it again in college, I tried again. And this time I ate it up. What a story of injustice! But also what a story of hope!

Our relationship doesn’t end there, however. I have taught this book now four times and to four distinctly different groups of students. And every time I teach it, I see more and more into it. This last time, I really started to see myself in Scout–wanting so badly for everything to be fair and right, but going about things all the wrong ways. And I see Atticus as who I can work toward being. Though I’ll never really be cool under pressure, and I will always be a bit sharp-tongued, I really do need to choose my battles and tactics more wisely. I look forward to what my next reading might bring me.

Number 2: Gossie–a Children’s book. This is a simple tale of a “small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots every day.” It’s a sweet story about a little gosling who loses her favorite boots, but then finds them on the feet of another gosling; and, ultimately becomes her best friend after they decide to share the boots.

Easy story. Easy moral. Super cute. But what makes this book so special to me is the fact that both of my children just adore(d) it. My daughter memorized the story long before she could read, and it truly was one of the first books she read independently. My son loves it so much that we’ve bought every other gosling book this author has penned in this series. And even though he doesn’t read yet, he’s following his sister’s footsteps and memorizing it too.

I know this will be one of those books that I will dust off many years from now, perhaps when I have grandchildren, and it will always put a knot in my throat and a nostalgic smile on my face.

Number 3: Any R.L. Stine Fear Street book of the early 90’s. These books I read voraciously from about 4th to 9th grade. Just ate these things up. I was a strange kid reading these scary, sometimes gory books. But they made me the reader I am. And they opened my soul up to Edgar Allan Poe’s works later in my childhood. I loved the psychology of the characters–what was going on in their minds (though I didn’t call it psychology as a child). And I loved the feeling of always wanting more. What’s going to happen? How will they react?

These books even inspired my own early writings. I remember, when I was about 9ish, writing a story that ended: “And her cold, dark eyes stared off into the starry night.” What a fucking weirdo I was. But I was so proud of myself, and whenever I need reminding that I can write and that I should write, I think about that story that started it all off.

Day 4’s Challenge is to write about a loss of any kind.

I hope this post won’t come back to haunt me, but in the true spirit of my blog’s name, I must unburden myself of something. I’ve lost the love to teach.

Growing up, I had a few favorite games to play: house and school. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. There were other ideas I thought about, but nothing with any seriousness as being a teacher. And so, into the education field I went after high school.

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree  in December 2004 and began per diem subbing in January 2005, eventually pulling in a long-term position in April 2005. I’ve been teaching, all but one year, since then. It’s been the life I’ve know for ten professional, adult years, and truly all my life. It was my dream job. And I spent six years and two degrees making it happen.

But now that dream is dead. And I’ll tell you why it’s dead: Murder. Schooling and education as I once knew it no longer exists. Standardized testing has killed any joy, any creativity in the learning process. The joy of discovery, the pride in growing, the excitement of creating is as rare as finding dinosaur bones in your backyard. Good luck finding any of those.

And most of the general public think education is failing because of the teachers. Somehow it’s all our faults. It’s not the policymakers who have no educational background or advanced degrees in pedagogy. It’s not school administrators after their own self interests or without the guts to stand up for what’s right. It’s not the ignoring of social issues that run deep in society and create environments and difficulties that can’t easily be solved. No, it’s definitely the teachers.

It’s the people who have: dedicated years of schooling; spent more hours planning, grading, shopping,researching, writing, thinking, worrying than most give credit for; eschewed higher incomes than their education and experience truly dictates; spent their own money buying supplies, clothing, food for students in need; ask for what’s fair and nothing more in return; who just want to inspire and guide, and marvel at young minds transforming. Yeah, it’s us who are the problem.

I say fuck that shit. I’ve got no nice way to say it. Fuck anyone who thinks the system can be fixed with one more test, one more scripted curriculum, one more hour of intensive math or reading, with one more cut to the arts. Fuck you, and fuck your bullshit, deeply flawed and harmful plans. YOU are the problem. You, who put restriction after restriction on learning. You who rule with dollar signs in your eyes and blinders to the developmental needs of children. Who who has chosen to forego degrees in child development and psychology as well as teaching practices and decided you’re still qualified to make decisions that will irrevocably change people’s lives–most of whom are fucking CHILDREN.

The healthcare system in American is an atrocity. It needs serious change to repair the damage that it has done over the course of many years. But last time I checked, politicians hadn’t waged a war on doctors because of it. I don’t see doctors being told what kinds of treatments they’re limited to in correcting ALL illness. I don’t see only one test by which the doctors can make their diagnoses. And I sure as shit don’t see anyone cutting their salaries,benefit packages, or demanding they work more hours. Doctors make, on average, six figures. And they work their asses off for it. I don’t disagree with that at all. No one questions why they make what they do. Or why nurses make what they do. Or why lawyers make what they do. But someone is going to question whether I’ve earned my $40,000 annual salary? Someone is going to question whether or not I’m good at what I do because of the results of ONE FUCKING TEST?! If you do, you clearly don’t know shit about what I do. And you need to back the fuck up and step off. Leave the teachers alone.

Oh, but not all teachers ARE good, you say? Well, you’re right. But neither are all doctors, plumbers, engineers, cashiers, fast food workers. I don’t see a public outcry to oust them from their positions. No, I see the vilification of teachers because it’s easier to blame them than address what’s really wrong with our system.

And until that does happen, until real change, meaningful change happens, I’m done. I love my students. I love teaching. But not like this. Never like this.