When the teacher learns the most

Hall Homeschool Year 9 is officially in the books, as of Friday night when I finally got the last grades averaged and the last box emptied. How did the year end up? Well, this is our first year to have no straight-A finishers. You know, I almost didn’t want to post anything about the year for that reason. Pride creeps in so easily, doesn’t it? We see post after post on Facebook of kids with their awards and their good grades at the end of the school year, until we think we shouldn’t post anything that’s less than stellar. 

Here’s the thing: I’m super proud of my kids this year, and they all worked really hard, but it was probably the most difficult year academically that we’ve had. The year went much better than last year as far as just controlling the chaos and getting things done and staying on target. The struggles this year were all in the academics. I graduated a kindergartner who is still struggling to read the most basic words. We are repeating the same math level next year with one child and the same spelling level with another. Some of the middle school work will have to be toned down a little, as well.

The truth is, all the kids expect maybe the kindergartner, were working at least one grade level ahead, and in some subjects two grade levels ahead. My middle schooler read Homer and Plato and Sophocles–unabridged and un-watered down. So I’m extremely happy with those B’s. I learned a lot, though, about my kids, about myself, and about the Hall Homeschool philosophy of education.

A work hazard for a homeschool mom is the probability of feeling like a failure when your kids don’t do well or need to slow their pace. The tendency to blame your child’s struggles on the teacher is just as real in a homeschool setting as it is in public school. This year, though, has been extremely freeing for me as a teacher. 

I have finally learned that it’s ok if someone needs to slow down. A few years ago, it became apparent that Elisabeth and Samuel both needed to repeat their phonics level. That year, the decision was accompanied by many days of tears, and the kids cried a little, too. This year, though, when the math started really getting away from Elisabeth during the last nine weeks, she and I together discussed the possibility of just flipping back to the front of the book and starting over, and she was thrilled. When I saw how fast her confidence bounced back after the first few lessons, I knew we had made the right call and it felt really good. So this fall she will pick back up at the beginning of the book, which means she and Samuel will be working out of the same book. She will sail through the beginning, of course, but she will have a second chance to master the basics that remained muddled in her head this year and are holding her back. 

I’ve also learned that if we need to tweak or even postpone a certain course before we even begin, that’s ok, too. We’re already planning to do history and Bible and even some reading as a group next year, to make sure that everyone is learning the material and to make it more fun. And I’ve found some ways to adjust some of the other courses that will still keep a high standard but be a little more feasible for us.

In the end, mastering the material is more important than keeping up with an advanced standard, isn’t it? I am embarrassed to admit that a few years ago I may not have agreed with that. I thought the only evidence of homeschooling success was keeping up with the standard we set on Day One. Day One–before we actually started and when I was still a perfect homeschooler. The standard was set, and anything short of it would mean failure. I was so foolish.

This year was a huge success. Yes, there are B’s on everyone’s record, and even one 79.5 which I generously rounded to an 80 for a barely-B. But the kids learned a lot and the teacher learned the most. I would be a failure indeed if I let impossible standards frustrate my kids so much that they ended up hating school and ending their lifelong love of learning before it even begins. The biblical command to not provoke your children to wrath would certainly apply here.

So, to the homeschool mom who is fretting because your child didn’t finish the material or didn’t get a good grade or isn’t keeping up with Johnny in the co-op group, relax. Just relax. Don’t throw your standards, hopes, and dreams out the window, but do re-evaluate and see if they are even achievable. And if they aren’t, adjust them and breathe a sigh of relief. You want to challenge your children, not frustrate them. Require hard work, not perfection. That goes for your kids as well as yourself.  Think about the goals beyond the grade, like their character and their heart and your relationship. You are taking on a mighty task, but you don’t have to go it alone. Confide in some other homeschooling moms. Confess your worries and fears. Let your husband in so that he knows what’s going on and can help you make wise decisions. It can be very easy for a homeschooling mom to act as if she is the only one with a say in the children’s education but that is an extremely unhealthy attitude. Do yourself, your marriage, and your kids a favor and let him know that you value his opinions. (And work on your heart if that’s not actually true). 

This year, the teacher learned the most. As a result, I’m extremely excited to see how much more the kids learn next year. I love homeschooling. Every year may get harder, but it just keeps getting better and better.


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