“I can’t do this. I don’t know how you do this.”
I read those words one morning as I opened up a text message from a fellow mom. I could sense her utter frustration and discouragement. As I read on, she detailed her frustration with having to manage her children’s schooling now that all the schools were closed. As a working mom, she would need to continue to work her job from home, meet the educational needs of her children, and manage her household. She did not decide to take any of this one for herself. Like many parents in the United States in March 2020, she found herself thrown into the task of Schooling at Home.
In detailing her frustration, I felt that there was a huge misconception in her thought process. As I sat thinking of how to respond to her text, I knew one of the truest messages I could respond with is that the “this” that she was speaking of was not homeschooling. It certainly wasn’t what I had been doing for the last 12 years.
After teaching in a 6th-grade classroom my second year out of college, I felt so conflicted in the classroom setting. There were so many students that could have excelled with more one-on-one time. I struggled to keep a challenging pace in my classroom while not leaving some students behind. I spent that year working before school, at lunch, and after school to “pour” into my students in any way possible. I grew frustrated by the multiple interruptions in my day, the amount of time wasted, and the inability to motivate students who were clearly not being challenged. I longed to feel that I was making a difference.
When I graduated college with my degree in Education, I knew that I would one day be homeschooling my own children. I was excited about the possibility of pouring my love for education into my own. I knew that I would be able to meet with my school district, determine what they deemed as “necessary,” and alter the curriculum to meet my own needs as well. I would be able to tailor each child’s curriculum to their individual needs and interests. I would be able to push them in the subjects that they excelled in and recognize the areas where they need more assistance.
Homeschooling for the past twelve years has been completely under my discretion and oversight. I have been able to determine our family’s homeschooling schedule, create a physical environment conducive to learning, and structure my housework around these other responsibilities. Although Pennsylvania homeschooling law mandates a 180-day school year, standardized testing, an evaluated portfolio of course work, and a completed list of educational objectives, I have largely maintained supervision and control over my children’s education.
When I compare the current state of “schooling at home,” I see the frustration that parents feel. They lack all control over the educational environment. Schools are asking them to oversee someone else’s educational objectives, while maintaining a high standard of work ethic. Parents have essentially no control over what is taught, or how much work is required. In homeschooling, I can have my child complete 10-15 multiplication problems to quickly assess their grasp of multiplication. I don’t need two pages of classwork uploaded to determine that. As a homeschooling mom, I don’t feel the need to create a workload that utilizes the same amount of time as a 40-minute class. I look at the objectives of a class and determine how quickly my child can meet that. I might be able to complete several Math “classes” in a 20-minute lesson. I have the added benefit of greater efficiency in my time. I can teach the same objectives to one student versus having to check assignments, or check multiple children for understanding.
If you walk into the home of a homeschooling family, the physical environment is usually set up to accommodate the learning of multiple children. Most families either have a separate homeschooling room, or have created a section in their dining area to be able to school. The current situation is causing total upheaval as parents are unable to work and school at the same time. Parents must now create a space for their children to homeschool, while their daily schedules are accustomed to working independently in their homes. Parents are not only required to adjust their working environment to “work from home” but are now suppose to accommodate and create an educational environment for their children as well. This can only lead parents to feel like they are inadequately struggling to meet impossible demands.
The socialization of homeschoolers is a worry of the past. One of the areas that my homeschoolers are struggling with the most is their inability to attend extracurricular activities. Parents, like myself, often use group activities to motivate students to get their work finished quickly. This virus has prevented homeschoolers from attending their weekly co-ops, group field trips, and extracurriculars. They are missing their friends, and being part of a larger group. These “teacher parents” are missing the “free period” or break that these groups provide as well. Students have nothing to look forward to.
As we all try to navigate the next few months as our school year comes to a close, let us be comfortable addressing our concerns and the predicament that this virus has created in our families. We are all feeling frustrated and a large amount of upheaval. Let us not play the “comparison game” but acknowledge that all of us who are schooling in any way are uncomfortable, and being stretched. Let us find support and encouragement in each other.