A reader and fellow blogger recently commented that my homeschooling was a heroic act. I protested, but she pressed, giving me a hurrah for following my instincts. I thought that through for a moment, then resumed my doubting. Many days, I find myself questioning where I am and why I’m here homeschooling my kids. I spend too much time worrying that I’m not doing enough for one child, or perhaps I’m doing too much for another. Either tact I take confirms my worst fears: that I’m failing my kids.
Yes, I know that’s unlikely, but I often find myself caught in the “what’s going wrong” loop. I’m an optimistic person by nature, but I also have an exasperating tendency to look for fault. I can temper much of that tendency in public, but when my eye turns to my life, the fault-finder runs full-strength. Lately, my focus has been on what’s going wrong on the homeschooling front. I don’t expect it to all run smoothly all the time, but lately I’m seeing holes in their homeschooling experience, and I’m panicking.
My older is 14, and if he were in school, he’d be in ninth grade. Ninth grade. That’s high school. That’s transcript time. He doesn’t have one of those. In a fit of panic at the start of the year, I solicited my homeschooling high school mom-friends for templates of their transcripts. While waiting for replies, I scoured the internet, searching of the perfect form on which to lodge his pertinent data. It’s not really the form that matters: it’s what goes on the form. I feel myself in mental free-fall, wondering if we’ve been doing anything in these last seven years.
So what’s the big deal about the transcript? First, I haven’t graded much of their work. Sure, my older’s taken math tests and received grades for them since he started Algebra, several years back. And I graded his high school biology and chemistry tests (4 for each class). But the rest of his work has gone ungraded, although hardly unevaluated. Papers, lab reports, and problem sets are returned with places needing corrections marked. I look for improvement and mastery of the material at hand, not perfection. This means some papers go through two or three edits while others stop at one. When the learning goal is reached, the assignment is done.
Sometimes we mutually agree when enough is enough. Sometimes neither of us can look at an assignment one more time without suffering all sorts of ills, and at that point, we’ll generally call it done. Those events often indicate that we have a gap between what I thought he could do and what he can do. If I view that gap constructively, I can structure the next assignment and intervening learning events to take steps to close that gap. But if I’m in a panicky state, I just, well, panic. And then go online to look for more transcript forms.
Given this method of evaluating our homeschooling, it’s hard to make a meaningful transcript template. I’m too aware that “Mommy grades” aren’t helpful to future colleges — I don’t imagine too many homeschooling parents grant a “C” or lower, and I’d bet that the B’s are few and far between as well. I can’t see just pulling a grade out of the air, besides, with my tendency to see what’s not working, I’d likely seriously run my son’s GPA right into the ground.
Likely, that won’t matter. Next fall, he’ll take a class or two at local university, a place where they’ll grade him without bias and with an organized plan. That’s my other panic point. I’m a fairly organized homeschooler, but I retain a flexibility that defies the confines of the four-quarter school year that makes transcript-making easy. Ever since we started homeschooling, I’ve made mid-course directions with my older, leaving behind what wasn’t working for us and adjusting repeatedly to his rather hard-to-define learning challenges and nebulous learning style. When I don’t think about transcripts and college applications, this ever-shifting style works for me. The optimist in me is always sure that this shift or change will make the difference. And often, it does, at least for a while.
But ninth grade is here. Try as I might, I can’t figure out how to explain much less evaluate with a single number or letter what he’s done this year. And my focus keeps centering on what’s missing. While some of our subject studies stand alone, many others merge together, with “English” wandering across the curriculum and “History” being a conglomeration of experiences that taught him much but defy grading. When I start to write it all down, all I see are the holes — the class left mid-year (for good reasons), the books unfinished, the continued lack of a foreign language despite honest attempts to find a way for that subject to work for him. My brain floods with the implications of my neglect.
A few days back, a day that benevolent commenter bestowed me with the title “heroic,” a forum I frequent carried a thread asking for what was going well for homeschooling families. As I read through the replies, I felt a bit of confidence and, dare I say it, hope. What is going well? With that, my thoughts shifted.
For my older, piano is going well. He managed to successfully negotiate a new approach to his piano education, one that respects his desire to play more of the romantics and her concerns about him learning the technique to play a greater repertoire than his current fascination. His joy for the instrument returned, which is reflected in his practice, and he furthered his self-advocacy skills as well. He’s also taken an interest in politics, spurred somewhat by the election season and well-supported by a history class on American history and Middle-East/US relations he takes. Somewhere in the past few months, he went from giving me a rather brief reporting of class topics to a longer discourse on a host of issues, illustrating an understanding that allows him to apply the events of the past to the present. And somewhere along the line, he became quite useful in solving my computer woes, a skill that happened completely without me.
My younger, whose struggles with the social dynamics life requires seems to be increasing lately, has written and published his first novel and continues to take in history in large gulps, filling much of his spare time with books, videos, and writing centered around history. By all measures, he’s academically thriving. However, my attention often moves to what is not working, the ways his struggling emotionally and socially. It took a stranger’s question to refocus me on what was going well.
I’m no hero. I’m just a parent working hard to meet the needs of her kids. I am fallible and occasionally fatalistic while remaining generally optimistic. I see my children as imperfect and yet totally amazing creatures, realistic views, I think. Perhaps the heroic, or at least brave, moments come when we allow ourselves to see the whole picture of our children and ourselves, the good and the bad, and still continue to try, not letting one overwhelm the other. It’s the balance of lessons from the past and vision for the future, with a huge dose of staying in the crazy, wonderful, terrible moments we are in now.
Sarah MacLeod is a homeschooling mom to two twice-exceptional boys (gifted with learning challenges) and a very part-time physician assistant in Family Practice. She enjoys knitting, reading, and teaching others to write. She blogs about her homeschooling life onQuarks and Quirksabout the rest of life on Finding My Ground about the rest of life. Her writing can also be found on Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.