Welcome, Mamma Crew! Today is Mamma Thursdays when it’s all about us! The mammas!
Well, it’s finally happened, what can I tell you? I’m officially stupid! What do I mean by that? I mean, I do have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, a Ph.D…, and a Mom degree — I think that’s the most important one.
But why is it that I’m calling myself stupid today? Well, I homeschool, right? And you would think that with all of my degrees, I would feel… confident about my ability to homeschool my children. And I have to tell you: homeschooling elementary school — it’s easy-peasy!
I know people can really complicate the darn thing, but it really is one of the easiest things to do. Now you might be thinking, ”Easy for you, right? You have all this education!”
No, not really. Honestly, my inspiration comes from a Catholic mother I met at a town function who had homeschool all thirteen of her children! Now some of them — the eldest ones — have already gone off to college. About half of them have gone to Ivy League schools, and most of them had school scholarships.
Now one of the things that I quickly learned about this woman is she had barely graduated from high school. And yet, she taught pre-calculus and calculus! Now I have to tell you, me with all of my Ph.D., I never took pre-calculus, had no interest in calculus whatsoever, and while I did well in graduate statistics, It was certainly not my favorite class and I had to study hard to get the grade that I got!
So anytime that I feel daunted, or I think I can’t do it, I think about that mom (whose name I don’t even remember but she is my constant inspiration) because she’s the one that taught me that in order to teach my children, all I had to do was to be willing to learn (relearn, oftentimes). I know more about algebra and geometry today than I did when I was in high school.
So back to why am I feeling stupid. Well, very frankly, I am preparing for next year. And my three girls are going to be in the eight-grade (Bug is barely in kindergarten next year so talk about easy-breezy). But the girls — this is their last year before high school. And my husband and I take education very seriously, so I’m making sure that they’re getting a top-notch education.
Now this means a lot of work on my part. I don’t mind it. I really do enjoy teaching. It’s my vocation and my avocation. So that’s not the issue. The issue is that as I set all the material I’ve chosen to prepare for next year, and as I start opening books and reading everything and creating my lesson plans, all I can say is, “Holy cow! What happened?!”
I mean, my girls are amazing: I have one daughter that’s writing and reading at the twelfth-grade level; I have another kiddo that’s reading and writing at the eleventh-grade level; they both test in the high ninetieth percentile for math. And Dora — who became our daughter about a year and a half ago — when she came to The United States, she spoke absolutely no English, she didn’t read it and today, she’s reading and writing at grade level. It’s just amazing, okay? Just amazing!
So I’m blessed with tremendously hard-working kids. Not a single one of them is gifted, not a single one of them is a genius –nothing like that. They just work hard.
So we’ve always worked hard and we’ve always advanced but the books for next year are teaching things that I didn’t learn until I was in college! Literally! And I went to a very good school! Now granted, in high school, I went to a public school. But it was an excellent school in an excellent neighborhood. How did this happen?! How is it that our children are expected to learn things for middle school that I didn’t learn until I was in college? I mean, have things advanced that much? Have our expectations grown that much? I mean, clearly, the girls have risen to the occasion over and over again but just reading through the books, it’s just a tad bit scary and overwhelming!
Now to be honest with you, I’ve often had that kind of reaction when I meet new challenges. That’s just who I am. But despite the fact that it didn’t take me long to say. “Okay, I’m confident I can teach this,” I had those five to ten minutes in which I just felt… stupid! Just incredibly stupid! And I came to the realization that by the time my children go to college, they’re going to know so much more than I did at their age. They’re going to be prepared in ways that I struggled to accomplish.
I mean, all three girls know all the components of an essay. I didn’t learn that in high school! Yes, they tried to teach it to me and yes, they went over it. But I never understood it! We never practiced it enough. And I was never quite sure how it was that I managed to score so high on the advanced placement test. But I did. Writing and reading comprehension was never an issue for me. I always lacked confidence in math, but it was always a lack of confidence, not a lack of ability. So when I went to college, it was really where I honed my skills. High school was more about being exposed and college was more about really refining those skills, learning to use the tools I had — and learning to use them to my best advantage.
A lot of the things that I learned in my bachelor’s degree, my girls already know! They already know it! As a retired sociologist, I have to ask myself over and over, “Has society really changed this much?” And I keep thinking of how much time I’ve spent protecting my children from growing up too fast or being exposed to an over-sexualized, over-materialistic society and helping them treasure their childhood, and yet at the same time, I’ve consistently pushed them academically. They excel, I know that. But today I wondered, “Did I push too hard? Am I pushing too hard now?”
They don’t really complain about homework because we do homeschool. And so much of the time that you spend in the classroom is doing classroom management. So, unfortunately, you don’t often teach at the highest possible level. Most of the time, you teach at the lowest common denominator. And that’s the sad indictment of our educational system, but a sadder indictment of the family, because it really requires parental involvement to create good students, you know. A teacher can talk to you about study skills and about your children’s behavior but the bottom line is that study after study shows that parental involvement in our children’s life is in a steady decline. We expect more from outside sources than we do for ourselves.
Now that’s a generalization. But it does make classroom management very difficult. And that’s not a challenge you face in homeschool. In fact, we recently offered to send the girls to a private school. And they looked at us like we were insane.
This is an excellent private school in Florida. But it does have ten periods, one of which is a thirty-minute lunch. The other nine are actual subjects and each period is only for minutes long. And my daughter asked, “What are we gonna learn in forty minutes? It’s gonna take us ten to fifteen minutes to sit down and get ourselves organized, and when the class is over when are we supposed to do the work?” And I said, “Well, that’s why it’s called homework. ‘Cause you do it after school.” and she’s like, “So we’re gonna spend all that time in school, we’re not really going to learn that much, and all of our free time is going to go to doing homework?” And I didn’t want to say, ”Yuh!” I said, “Well, it’s a different lifestyle.” And she told me very nicely what I can do with that lifestyle.
So back to preparing for next year. And back to having that shocking moment in which I felt extraordinarily stupid because, oh my god, so much is expected from our children today. So, so much! But you know, once I got over that initial panic, I realized that unlike us, our children have access to incredible resources.
I mean, do you remember going to the library and dealing with the Dewey System, sitting on the floor trying to figure it all out? I used to spend hours doing that. Now you can pull up a journal — any kind of a journal! — on the Internet with ease! Books — with ease! I mean everything is at a fingertip! In fact, one of the things that I’ve had to teach my girls is that not every Internet resource is an academic resource and only academic resources are acceptable in papers. But at that, they learned that in the fifth grade so that is no longer a problem. Many of my college students had not learned that!
So yes, they are ahead. Why? I’m not certain. But I am excited. I am excited, given that they are so far more advanced than I was at this age; that they will be far more advanced when they go to college than I was at that age and that progress will continue. And I’m just dying — dying to see them explore our world… I think it’s going to be a fascinating experience to be on the backseat of that wonderful rollercoaster ride.
So, like so many other times, I’m over my little feeling-stupid trauma and I’m ready to tackle the year. Or better yet, ready to tackle whatever challenge they throw at me. Because let me tell you, I felt pretty stupid when they introduced me to TikTok, too. Maybe I don’t feel stupid. Maybe the thing is that I feel old. Nah! I just feel stupid!
But like I said, good thing I get over it quickly. Move on to the next challenge!