// October 13th, 2011 // No Comments » // Educating the Chaotic Mind
Occasionally my Type O personality gets me in trouble but when it comes to Drue’s schooling, I think we’ve found enough justification for my OCD. I’ve been on the edge of education for over a decade now and have seen second and third hand what teachers experience but it is nothing like being responsible for developing and planning my own curriculum for the first time. I am so grateful for my job experience with a wonderful organization whose ongoing mission is to support teachers with best practices in K-12 education and then shares all that good knowledge with the educators and allows them a forum to share with each other. Because while it was doing all of that for educators in North Carolina and surrounding states, it gave me a peek into things like the Standard Course of Study and aligning curriculum with that standard course of study and then building lesson plans to support the goals of that curriculum. It also introduced me in a very high level way to the ongoing struggle to teach verses teaching to standards. During my short tenure working for this organization, if someone had told me I would eventually take these things I was learning about – and not involved with at all since my particular job for this organization had everything to do with keeping their website up and nothing to do with teaching itself – and apply them as a teacher to my own child I would have written them off as crazy.
12 plus years later, here I am teaching. And I don’t just teach Drue. I also have the pleasure of working with a lot of very legal-minded people to <strike>train</strike> teach adults as well. But while I think in terms of programs, job roles, competencies and compliance with my adult learner population, I can’t classify Drue. Well okay, I could classify Drue. I could easily fall into the public education mentality, toss her into a learning box marked gifted and then bring on World War III. The reality is that I brought Drue home to learn because she is incredibly gifted and because public education has NO idea of what to do with her or kids like her. And honestly, neither do I. If I had all the answers, life would be so much simpler, no? It would be boring for sure, but way simpler. So this summer, in designing Drue’s curriculum I went with what I know. I downloaded all the standards for sixth and seventh grade. I planned tests for the first few weeks to ensure she remembered enough from last year to excel this year. I wrote curriculum and goals and aligned everything to the seventh grade standard. Then I wrote lesson plans filling our days with activities, discussions, and interesting things to do. I planned to begin everything the second week of September. I had A PLAN. And then reality hit and boy did it smack my right upside the head.
First, we got into Ocean Grove, an independent charter school that allows me to homeschool my way but still covers things like curriculum reviews, portfolio building, grades, an official transcript and YES, standardized testing. We also get money from the state each semester which is incredibly helpful because our chosen path of homeschooling is expensive. All of this is a Good Thing™ but moved our school start date from September 7th to August 15th. PANIC! So I went from an organized three weeks to put together lesson plans to needing lesson plans developed right now, this very instant!
Second, we tested Drue and all that lovely seventh grade curriculum I prepared went right out the window the moment we got her results back. Now we were looking at ninth grade math (Algebra I and Geometry) curriculum and 11th grade reading!!! We also found out I needed to formalize Drue’s Science curriculum more and we needed books, lots and lots of books. So we ordered Algebra I books, Life Science books, teacher guides, and formal lab materials. And we started the long wait. I read new standards and drafted new curriculum and waited for the books. And as August slipped into September and September moved relentlessly towards October, I started to panic and wonder when I would receive the books. To add to my unrelenting stress, my Education Specialist emailed me and let me know that since Drue is working on honors level high school work, California requires her to follow the a-g curriculum requirements. Huh? It seems that the state of California has formal requirements outside of its standard course of study for students planning to apply to University of California schools. Normal public high schools cover a-g requirements but Drue is not in a normal high school. Another option was to send her to community college, a move I was not ready for given Drue is only 12 years old. Or we could pay for an a-g Specialist to review Drue’s curriculum and portfolio and test her a few times each semester to ensure she was meeting all standards. We went with option 3.
As September moved into October, I started receiving standards requirements, practice tests and other information for Drue for Algebra I. I downloaded Life Science requirements from California’s Department of Education website. We received free books for Geometry and Life Science but still needed all our lab tools, assessment sheets, lab books, practicum and other Science materials. We were also missing our Algebra I books and as October 1st came and went, I went from panic mode to HOLY CRAP WHAT WILL I DO NOW?? mode! Luckily, we have an excellent ES who calmed me down, and worked her magic to get Drue’s midterms waived which were set for mid-October. So now instead of cramming 2 months of work into 2 weeks, I need to figure out how to cram 4 months of work into 9 weeks. And while this still feels daunting and leaves a dull ache in the pit of my stomach, I am no longer carrying a paper bag to breathe into. So for now, we are focusing on Geometry (10th grade level so we have two years to get her through this 655 page book…whew!) and using Khan Academy to review material on Algebra I. Drue is also attending Russian Math for 2 and 1/2 hours per week to supplement her Algebra I learning but they don’t pace according to a-g requirements (which require the kids to master 2-3 objectives per week).
Along with the anxiety of trying to stay on the same page as “on task”, work has picked up for my little company which is great… and not great at the same time. You see, as work picks up for me, we struggle with getting in the discussion time we both want (and occasionally Drue needs) to ensure she gets her questions answered and to make sure she stays on task. Like me, she gets obsessed with certain subjects or topics and would spend days on that ONE THING instead of ensuring she meets her daily rounds of reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. So scheduled discussions are anchors for us and allow me to transition her back onto plan, as loose and non-formed and out of control the plan may currently be. It’s definitely a challenge and something we were not prepared for when determining her curriculum flow. And my OCD is creating a physical stress presence in my body that I carry in my upper back, shoulders, and neck. I literally feel like I am tipping under the weight of it. It was so bad that last week I melted down when Drue was 10 minutes late leaving her lab, adding to my overall drive time from my home office to San Jose and back and making me late to a meeting. I just hit that wall where I could not TAKE one more thing. So we backed off the work for a few days and gave Drue some independent projects to buy me some time to relax, and figure out a plan to meet our requirements without the tools in hand that we need. Receiving the Science supplies on Friday helped relieve my stress levels as well. AS a family we had an honest conversation about what is working and what is not and came up with this list:
- Independent learning where Drue takes control of her school work and comes to me with questions
- Daily tasks on the board
- Weekly and monthly projects posted to the Google calendar
- Online, self directed learning with feedback from other teachers aka dedicated experts to the subject (like writing)
- Social interaction via Russian Math, Rock-It Science and Academic Antics
- Collegiate style of learning – 1.5 to 2 hours twice a week on specific subjects with independent, week long homework projects with daily check-ins to ensure understanding
What isn’t working:
- Lengthy discussions during the day
- Too many Academic Antics extra-curriculars where Drue loses a day and a half each week between commuting to class and actual class time
- Covering all subjects every day for a short amount of time
Our reality is that I have 1-2 hours per day to really focus on Drue and her learning as her teacher. My struggle is letting go of the shame in not being able to do it all and just accept that I am busy doing work I love and outsourcing some of the teaching to others who are WAY more qualified than I to ensure she learns, stays challenged and stays on task. So this week we are highlighting what works, identifying areas of heavy focus (Algebra I, Geometry, Science and History), carving out time on the weekends to have lengthy discussions and working towards semester goals instead of daily tasks. I have decided that next semester we are focusing on finding creative ways to bring subject matter experts into Drue’s learning experience so the bulk of her day-to-day learning is not my sole responsibility. Instead of teaching, I will be more of a curriculum expert, making sure Drue meets her short and long term goals, and as her parent, I help her meet those goals without the additional burden of having her teach her EVERYTHING. And while that makes our homeschool experience a lot more expensive than others, it works for us.
Sure you could argue that I brought Drue home to be with me and to teach her myself, adhering to our values and our goals. And that is a very valid point. But our goals and values don’t limit us to a particular way of schooling or force me lose sleep and my sanity to try to teach her everything myself. Our goals are a happy medium between standardized testing and grades and a more relaxed way of schooling that occasionally feels, acts and appears to be our own flavor of unschooling. And I feel no shame in bringing in experts to teach subjects to Drue that aren’t my particular area of expertise or something that, frankly, impacts my relationship with Drue. Because sometimes paying someone else to come in and teach Drue is worth every penny if it means we aren’t at each other’s throats arguing about how we’re going to tackle this particular subject. To me, that freedom to delegate areas of learning is priceless.
I finally feel like we’ve acquired enough experience in the last six months to accept what does and doesn’t work. And I am looking forward to finding a place of real peace regarding her school work and meeting the standards. I’m sure once we finish our curriculum assessment and update her lesson plans for the rest of October, November and December through finals, the peaceful, easy feeling I have today won’t last. But then that’s what my little glass of wine is for! Right?