Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It's good to be Redneck...

Today it was good to be redneck. We were invited to a friend's house for a cookout. This guy is the biggest redneck I know, but he's also the most fun person I know so it was bound to be a good party. When we got there, Three of the men and one of their sons were shooting clay pidgeons that had been strategically placed around in the neighboring bean field with a .22 rifle. By the end of the day, my son and my eldest daughter both had to try this, as well as most of the other kids.

My friend sent my son to a tree in the "back lot" of his property with a hack-saw to cut branches to make sling-shots. There was about a 30-minute demonstration on how to make a good sling and how to use the device, and all the kids spent at least an hour shooting each other with small rocks and pieces of food. This was all fun and games until someone almost put out an eye. Yes, I'm serious.

We drank beer and told jokes and teased each other all over the place and laughed our butts off. The kids chased the chickens and caught frogs in the pond and climbed trees and poked a dead animal with a stick and left for home covered in dirt. I don't think we've had so much fun in a long time.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Taking a big step into homeschooling "solo"...

In Iowa, as in most states, you have a few choices when it comes to homeschooling. Here, you can either take your kid in for a standardized test every year, hire a teacher to oversee your child's learning, or submit a portfolio of your child's work for review. When I pulled my son out of public school, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I leaned on the advice of some schmuck in the Department of Education and the "Director" at the school district office.

The Director handed me a paper to fill out and file, and he stood over my shoulder telling me what to write on each line. "Make sure you write 180 here," he said, "and here you list your subjects. Write: reading, math, science, social studies, and spelling." This went on through the whole document, including the part where I marked which of the three options I chose. The Director said, "You'll want to do standardized tests, that way you don't have to keep any records." I nodded, great idea. I marked the box. He said, "Mark this box for dual-enrollment. That way your son can use the books he's been using all year, and you won't have to buy any." I nodded again, saving money is good. He made sure to add, "Plus, you can enroll him for a few classes at school if you like. You know, art or music or something." I shrugged this comment off, since that bitch music teacher was part of the reason I was here in the first place. I had no idea the school got money for my child even when we were only getting textbooks from the school.

The rest of the school year went without a hitch, except that the principal called wanting the textbooks returned before the actual last day of public school, making us hurry through the last chapter in the Science book my son loved so much. When I dropped the books off in the office, the principal pulled me aside and in a most sincere tone asked, "How did the homeschooling go?" Thinking she was being helpful and kind, I was honest and said, "Oh, it was harder than I thought, takes a lot of organization." That nasty woman gave me a condescending look, laughed and said, "Kinda makes you appreciate real teachers huh?" Caught off-guard, I stumbled a bit before saying, "No. Not at all," and walking out the door.

This year was the first year my son was required to take the standardized test. I feared he would do badly as he's just not good at tests, no matter how well he knows the material. Just why did I have to prove my son knew this material? I knew he knew it, wasn't that good enough? And I was dreading taking him to that horrible place just to take a test. I had images of the teasing he would encounter from the other kids, the mistreatment he would get from teachers because they somehow took my homeschooling choice personally... I just didn't want to do it. So I hired a certified teacher to administer the test. Just as I feared, he didn't do very well on the test. He did so badly in fact, the teacher I hired told me he would not meet state standards in a few areas and could be subjected to examination by the district and possibly forcing some intervention. Like a tutor. Or re-enrollment in public school for chrissake.

Then this wonderful angel of a teacher (who taught in a public school before quitting to homeschool her own children) said, "Well, we can just submit it as a baseline test for portfolio prep next year." I had to process this statement. I had never considered using another reporting option. I told her I would think about it.

The idea of using a supervising teacher was ridiculous to me. It was as if I was publicly admitting my teaching skills aren't good enough and I need professional intervention. The portfolio option allowed me to do it all myself, keep records of only the most promising evidence of progress if I wanted. But it also required that evidence to be submitted to the district "for review." While a supervising teacher is required to check up on your child's learning 8 times per year, they aren't required to advise or interfere. And they aren't required to report a damn thing to the district unless your child is seriously behind. I decided having a former homeschooling mom check in on my kids once in a while was a heckuva lot better than having to have my every move scrutinized by the district, a.k.a. Them.

I called the teacher back and asked her to supervise next school year. So when I return these school books on Tuesday, it will be the last time I have government-supplied teaching materials, or the help of the public school at all. It's liberating after how much puppeteering went on with my homeschooling before now, but at the same time it's kind of scary too. It's the same feeling I had when I first decided to homeschool. I'm excited about all the possibilities I have, yet I'm overwhelmed by all the choices and am seriously stressing over which is the best. Bottom line though: I'm relieved to be actually homeschooling my children, without the "help" I've been not really getting all this time.