To School, or Not To School

It has been a long time since I have posted. I spent some time enjoying the last few posts that I did, following my own introspective mind through the process of debating keeping my business going, what my thought processes were and how I moved forward. Okay, the blog did not really chronicle how I moved forward. I seemed to have fallen off of the face of the earth. But here I am again, sharing what my brain has been mulling over for the past couple of years.

One thing that has happened, or hasn’t happened, is me getting my bearings back. I still haven’t located that passion, that drive that I had before that propelled me to read and look into everything that I could regarding education. I’m not entirely sure of the reason, other than I don’t really have a good outlet for this passion any more. I worked with a lot of stress for the past few years, and am still working in a stressful situation, although not the same one I was in before. I am trying really hard to not jump ship and land myself in yet another stressful work situation that I am not going to be happy in.

I think one of the reasons why I have been so unhappy is that my research has reached its logical conclusion, and it has been paired with life experience. That is the most dangerous pairing, because it means that there are tangible results to back up your hypothesis. And my underlying hypothesis this whole time has been that schools are not a healthy place for children. With all of the sitting in class, doing worksheets all day, with little experiential learning and not much connection to “real life,” school can drain the life out of some kids.

My own daughter went through k-5 and half of sixth grade in school. In first grade she was put in a remedial reading program because she was not reading at the school’s predetermined reading level. That was my first red flag for my daughter. She became very anxious about reading because she was not reading fluently enough for her teachers. But she loved to read, and her comprehension was off the charts. The next red flag came in third and fourth grade. She had switched schools and her grades started falling. I’m not sure what the differences were between the two schools, but third grade is when things start to get a little tougher because benchmark testing begins that year. Her third grade teacher and I had several conversations about her work, and her fourth grade teacher and I had to work out a behavior management plan for her because she was having a hard time focusing in class. I got the school system to do some testing and they determined that she had ADHD. I then got her tested by a psychologist and she determined that my daughter not only had ADHD, but Aspergers as well. The diagnosis wasn’t too much of a surprise to me; I had been going back and forth between the two as possible diagnoses for a while simply because of different things my daughter does, quirks that she has. But I didn’t think her diagnosis would come back as both.

Fifth grade was a nightmare as I tried to keep her off of medication. She could not keep up with homework and her attention and focus in class were non-existent, according to her teacher. In sixth grade I finally caved and started looking into medication options. I didn’t like any of the options because of the side effects. I didn’t feel good about putting my daughter on medication that could cause depression and anxiety, and my daughter complained because the medication I did put her on made her feel less happy than usual. On top of that, she was at a new charter school, and she began to develop anxiety habits like picking all of the wood off of her pencils and leaving a long piece of lead attached to an eraser. The teachers suggested mechanical pencils and stress balls, but with her lack of focus she would forget to bring these things to class half of the time. Her homework load became ridiculous and she began to have tantrums in the evening over homework that was taking her all afternoon and evening to complete. It was not a good situation, and I talked to her therapist about pulling her out of school. She had a therapist to help her with social skills, but even that situation was frustrating for me as a parent, because all I saw happening was the therapist pulling out a game to play, misunderstanding something that my daughter did or said, not listening to what my daughter had to say about what she did or said, and then my daughter having a tantrum because she was being misunderstood. Every week I watched this frustrating scene repeat itself over and over. But the therapist was a good support for me when it came to working through all of the considerations for pulling my daughter out of school.

I pulled my daughter out of school at the end of the second quarter of sixth grade. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. Our society is so conditioned to believe that if your child is not in this system of schooling, then they will not be successful in life, that my hands were literally shaking as I walked down the steps out of the school after filing the disenrollment papers. The only thing that was going through my head was the terrifying thought that I was going to break my kid.

There is a process that I learned about before I pulled my daughter out of school called deschooling. When I first heard about it, I took it to mean the decompression phase that most children who are pulled out of public school go through before they really start to become curious about learning again. And there is a lot of truth to this process. My daughter is in the middle of this process right now, and I constantly have to remind myself that what she is doing during the day is okay. And it isn’t like she isn’t learning. More on that in a minute.

There is another meaning of the word deschooling, though. Through listening to a great podcast called Fare of the Free Child, I came to see that deschooling is a process that anyone can go through to unlearn some of the structures that schools teach us. One of those, for me, is the importance of how people dress. It always bothered me in school that I didn’t have the fashionable clothes that the other kids had because it was viewed as a status symbol. It bothered me as an adult that I didn’t want to dress in the types of fashionable, or nice, clothing that other adults did. It bothered friends of mine, too; one Christmas this group of friends pooled their resources and bought me an entire new wardrobe that was more to the style of the day. The fact that they did that bothered me then, and it bothers me even more as I am thinking back on it and blogging about it. Were they that embarrassed by how I dressed that they felt the need to do that? It was like they were trying to change me to suit their vision of what one of their friends should look like. It bothered me as a parent that my daughter didn’t want to dress the way the other kids did – not because I thought it was important for her to be “on trend,” but because I was worried that she would be viewed as an outcast because of her choices in clothing. Now I am learning to face my truth: it is okay for both my daughter and I to wear clothing that we feel comfortable in. We both are rather androgynous in our clothing choices, and sometimes we both choose to wear nicer, more feminine clothing. My older daughter is similar in her clothing choices. There is nothing wrong with that for any of us.

Another deschooling lesson for me came from my daughter very recently. I have been getting onto her about her language choices and how she chooses to talk. Not that she is using bad words or anything like that; she is actually the bad word police in our house. But she doesn’t use what I term “proper language” sometimes, and it grates on my nerves because our society views people that use language that is not “proper” as uneducated or unintelligent, and I do not want anyone viewing my daughter that way. But my daughter made the point that people talk in different ways because of the way that they are brought up or because of where they live, and it is not my business or anyone else’s business how they were brought up or where they lived that led them to talk that way, and it is definitely not my place to judge them for that. What a profound statement from my daughter that put my judgment of her language choices on notice! I did have to explain to her that, while that is very true and I appreciated her bringing that truth to my attention, there is that structure in place in our society, and while it is not okay for me to be judgmental about how she chooses to talk she should be aware of that structure even if she does not choose to adhere to it.

Even though I am still terrified daily by my choice to pull my daughter out of school, I see evidences of her learning all the time. We don’t go see the therapist any more, but my daughter told me the other day that she found a YouTube channel that talks about ADHD, Autism, and social skills, and that she is learning how to better relate to other people. And she did that on her own, without any suggestion from a therapist or a teacher, or even from me. During this deschooling time she has been playing Minecraft and Roblox incessantly, which is another scary thing for me (video games all day?), but I know that she is learning something from them or she wouldn’t be playing them all the time like she does. I have always believed that children do not involve themselves in something that isn’t just challenging enough, and that they aren’t learning something from, even if the challenge and learning aren’t readily apparent to us at the time. She is no longer on medication and I can tell that she is happier, less stressed, and less anxious than she was. And my conversations with her consistently show me that she is learning, even if it isn’t the prescribed academic learning that our society deems is so important.

So the question is, to school or not to school? I know that the answer is going to be different for different people, but I think you know by now what my answer is.

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Going Back to School

I’m becoming excited about my place again, excited about what I am learning and doing. It has been a while since that happened, but I think that a pretty big change in direction has helped with that.

I decided to go back to school. A mentor has been suggesting it for a while, but I have brushed it off as unnecessary, since I have had the business and all. But the business isn’t cutting it, and it hasn’t been going the way that I intended for it to, so it is time to continue on my own personal journey so that I can figure out where the business needs to go. I have a really awesome idea where it should go, but I need time to get it there. And schooling. I think learning more will be a good thing. It usually is. After my mentor mentioned it and I scoffed at it (I actually filled out the application but didn’t follow up with my transcripts), I spoke to another woman who has had years and years of experience in the early childhood community as a consultant. I asked her how she came to be doing what she has done, and one of the major things that she mentioned was schooling. So apparently necessity in this field. I thought I could be one of those people that can drop out of college and make their mark. And in a lot of fields you can. But not this one. That may seem funny to some people who are reading this – that I actually thought that. But when you look at the innovators of this age, the Steve Jobs and the Mark Zuckerbergs, those are some pretty big role models who did not need to complete college to get where they are today. I look at the people I admire in the business world and they are saying and doing the same thing. But this isn’t the business world. This is the education world. Its a little bit different and I am working really hard to accept that. I love to learn, but I hate classrooms. I know that as I get farther along in this journey that will probably get better, and luckily there are more online learning programs now than there ever have been. That helps.

So I’m packing up the business for a while and going back to school. It is actually almost a relief. It will give me more time to post on here, I know that. I’ve missed it here.

Connecting With Myself

For eight years I have chased down all of the knowledge that I could about my chosen field: early childhood education. I have an impressive library of education themed books, some of which I haven’t even cracked open yet. I also have a huge Amazon wish list of even more books that I would like to own. To me, knowledge makes the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher. I have used my classroom as a way to try out ideas and find out what works and what doesn’t, and I have counted myself lucky that I have worked in environments that celebrated that rather than tried to stifle it. And I have used this blog as a place to chronicle the journey as I have gone through many different phases in my teaching career.

Through most of these years the pace I had set for myself was frantic: I was constantly stressed out and worried about doing well, learning enough. I even used my vacation a few years ago to go to a conference. I wouldn’t trade the experience of that conference for anything in the world, but as I sit here today and look at all of that hectic energy I have to ask myself, “How did I do all of that? And more importantly, why?” Because just in the past month my demeanor has become a lot calmer. I still have all of the books, and the desire for knowledge is still strong. But the frantic pace is gone. The desire for the frantic pace is gone. At least for now.

I remember when school would let out for the semester and I would try to dive back into the independent research that I had been doing. It never worked. It seemed like my mind needed a little bit of down-time from the craziness that was school before it could focus on anything else. I learned to take that time to catch up on some shows that I hadn’t seen in a while, or catch up on my house cleaning, or play some video games that I hadn’t had time for. After a month or so my brain would be ready to tackle the books and the theories and the blogging and the frantic out-of-school activities that I had for myself.

I haven’t been in school since May, and I left the job that was causing me all sorts of stress in September. In October I took the first real vacation that I’ve had in years – I didn’t do any work at all during that vacation. I had planned to do some work, but all I really needed was the down time. My long Thanksgiving weekend was spent playing some mindless singing monster game that my daughter wanted me to get into with her, along with some other video games. I read some books, but not the technical, early childhood based books that I have glutted myself on for so long. I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with myself. Teaching can leave you feeling so stressed out because you are constantly taking care of others. There have been some days when I have threatened to change my name because I have been so tired of hearing it when children need something from me! I have tried to reconnect with me and feel myself here. For so long I have felt like just a brain – that may sound funny, but when your primary purpose is to educate yourself and gain knowledge, it can feel like the only part of you that matters is your brain. You forget that you are a person and you have other needs and wants and hopes and dreams that may exist outside of the classroom or the books on your bookshelf.

I thought that when I got my degree things would change. I thought I would have a little more credibility in the field and be taken seriously as a teacher. I was wrong. The degree has turned out to be just another piece of paper, and that fact has made it hard for me to justify going back to school to get a higher degree. Especially since I have all of this knowledge built up from all of my own work that I have been doing. Credibility comes from action, not from a piece of paper. When I take myself seriously, I am taken seriously as a teacher. I have to recognize that the education that I received is for myself and not for everyone around me. And I will continue to educate myself, but because I am recognizing that my education is for me and not for everyone else I can choose what I want to educate myself about. I can take charge of my own education.

But enough about education and school. This post is about connecting with myself and recognizing that I am more than just the brain that I have been filling with knowledge. It is time for me to reconnect with myself first of all, and all of the things out there that I want to learn about. There is an entire world out there to explore, and only one life to explore it in.

In my last post I talked a lot about values and defining what your values are. The last time I sat down and defined my values it was for my classroom. I defined my purpose as Exploring Natural Curiosity, but that purpose wasn’t for me; it was for the children that I had in the class. I am naturally curious about a lot of things, and I think that we all are. Throughout our lives we tend to say, “I want to do x, y, and z,” but then we never actually go out and do it. We get caught up in jobs and life and that dream passes us by. And then we grow old and wish that we had done those things that we said that we wanted to do. It is time to reconnect with our selves and the passion that lives within us for life.

Interest and Motivation

I am starting to not like school very much. I used to love it because it kept me busy. It was challenging to juggle a few classes, my job, and my home life – keeping straight As in the process. The work itself wasn’t that challenging, but it kept me busy. Between semesters I would pick up my independent research as best I could (because I really couldn’t remember where I left off) and move forward with more engaging ideas. But a new semester would come and the non-challenging work would commence.

This summer has been different. This is my second semester since I took a much needed year-long break, and during this semester my independent research never actually stopped. I made a commitment to this blog and to my company in June, and the work and research that I have done to keep that commitment has been much more stimulating and rewarding than school ever has been. I am even beginning to resent school because it inevitably takes some time away from the blog, the business, and the research. For starters, the research is much more interesting. I am currently reading Ungifted by Scott Barry Kaufman. I couldn’t put it down all last weekend, and I plan on reviewing it soon. That book blew my mind, and I’m not even done with it yet. It has given me several pieces of the puzzle of my first workshop, Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom. I have been working on and off with this workshop for about a year, but in the past two weeks I have renewed my efforts to make it great and actually offer it to participants.

I can hear you saying, “Okay, where are you going with this?” Well, we are much more motivated to do things we are interested in than not, just like I am much more motivated by my interesting research and blog than schoolwork. The same is true of anyone else, including children. If the things we want children to learn are not presented to them in an interesting way, they will not be motivated to learn them. Sitting on a carpet reciting flashcards is not motivating or interesting. Matching games are interesting. Learning colors by using and naming them while doing are is interesting. Worksheets = not interesting. Learning math concepts with objects that can be manipulated = interesting.

My youngest daughter is seven years old and is well into the process of learning to read. During the school year she had not seemed very motivated, but it occurred to me that she enjoys learning about things (her favorite subjects right now are bacteria, fungus, and mirrors). She has become much more motivated to read over the summer as she has picked up books in the non-fiction section of the library in order to learn about different subjects. This motivation has been born out of her interest in learning new things.

In the classroom we would do well to remember that motivation is born of interest, and it isn’t simply about finding interesting ways to frame lessons. It is also about observing children to discover what their interests are and framing lessons around that.

The children in my class were very into movie theaters about two months ago, so we made our own theater. We put on a mini-production of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, in which the children took turns playing the characters that they wanted to play. We made tickets, complete with the letter “T”. We made our own popcorn stand and practiced counting by paying for the popcorn with fake money. All of these lessons and skills were embedded into the movie theater theme. There was probably much more we could have done with the theme, but the the theme lasted for a few weeks and we tried to come up with several different ways we could build on the experience. But we did it based on a theme that the children were interested in. Had they been interested in restaurants, we would have explored recipes and created menus, practiced writing in a notepad while we took orders, did some cooking activities, used fake money to pay for the food, and anything else we could have come up with to learn while we explored restaurants.

There are many different ways to include the interests of the children in learning, and creating a learning environment based on the children’s interests has a lot of other advantages to development as well. For instance, children learn social skills and how to handle different social situations, such as ordering food in a restaurant and taking turns playing different parts with their peers. This is ultimately what is meant by “learning through play”. Children don’t need much motivation to play; they play all day long. The challenge for teachers is to take that naturally-occurring motivation, along with the naturally occurring interest, and make a rich learning experience out of it.