The Winding Road to Educating
By Leslie Clark
I could easily be deemed flaky, uncertain, confused,
and contradictory in regards to the educational choices made for my kids.
And, those labels are just the ones I’ve applied to myself; I prefer not
to know what labels others have applied to me over the years!
I graduated high school and went into college with
full confidence that I was going to be in the Special Education field until
I retired. I never wavered on that as I went through school. I taught Special
Education, in various forms, for almost ten years in the public school system.
I was a product of the public school system, and, up until my first year
of teaching, believed heavily in it. I would have called you crazy if you
told me I would choose a different path for my kids.
However, when my first born started kindergarten
in the small school district in which I was teaching, I couldn’t ignore
what I saw. My daughter is a bright, creative girl whose sparkle was dulling
little by little every day in school. It wasn’t the teacher or the school;
it was simply that what was going on didn’t fit her. She was more advanced
than the reading instruction, was barely interested in math, and wanted
to be free playing, not doing pre-planned art and music.
I only left her in that school for six weeks, then
pulled her back to the private school she’d attended for preschool. She
was in a much smaller class size (ten kids vs. twenty-one kids), and her
teacher knew our family personally. She stayed there for the next four-and-a-half
years. Even there, there were many times she would come home saying things
that worried me: “I’m not good at math,” “I don’t want to go to school,”
and ”I don’t have any friends.” Most of those times, I dismissed what she
was saying as normal school issues, and thought little of it. It has only
been recently that I’ve discovered how many of those early experiences shaped
who she assumed she was as a learner and a person.
Her younger brother never entered the public system,
and only spent a year-and-a-half in private school. His learning journey
was much “cleaner” for lack of a better word. I started homeschooling them
both midway through his first grade year, which was her fourth grade year.
Homeschooling was the absolute best thing I ever
did as a mother! I was able to get to know my kids in ways I’d never had
the opportunity to do before. At that time, I was preparing to open an alternative
private school with a couple of teacher friends. I was hoping that being
with my kids all day at school, in an open classroom environment, would
preserve our close relationship. In the back of my mind though, I knew that
might not be the case.
When our school opened (eight months after I began
homeschooling), we were still small and I was able to have that one-on-one
time with my kids as well as the other students. However, as we got bigger
(still small by most standards, at forty-five kids), my time with them dwindled
throughout the day. I also had meetings after school, and was working on
many school projects afterhours. While our relationship was still closer
than most, I started longing for the homeschool days.
After three years of full-time teaching and helping
run the school, I have decided to go back to homeschooling. I will still
be a part-time presence at the school, as I love being a mentor to the amazing
kids there. This decision has been solely based on what I see as the best
learning environment for my kiddos. I’m a huge believer in self-directed
learning. Both of my kids are constantly curious about a large variety of
things, and are willing to explore them intensely. I want to have the opportunity
to find mentors to further their passions, give them as many hands-on learning
experiences as possible, and keep our connection strong through their adolescence.
Ah, the winding roads we follow for our children!!
From staunch public school supporter, to private school, to homeschool,
to private, and back to homeschool – I wouldn’t change the path as every
experience has taught us something. Who knows, I may have to amend this
post at some point because I’ve chosen a new option! I won’t miss the journey
on the way to the destination.
Leslie Clark is a parenting coach and
co-founder of a non-traditional private school. She is passionate about
helping parents find out of the box schooling solutions for their children.
She has been married for almost seventeen years to a wonderful man named
Darren and they have two amazing kids. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in
Interdisciplinary Studies (Elementary Education) and a Master’s degree in
Educational Administration. She taught in the public school system for almost
ten years before making the leap to alternative education.
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