Thursday, January 17, 2008

The elephant in the corner

... or why I'm not talking about homeschooling all the time.

Chez Deluxe has undergone massive transformation in the last six months. This time last year, I was working full time (and more) as an early elementary teacher at a small private independent school. I taught there for over six years, since right after I finished my MSEd. My children were both students there, and the vast majority of our family's social connections were through the school. It was a great place, fraught with certain problems like any organization, but on the whole, it worked and was a good place for my kids to go to school.

Also this time last year, my husband was working a part-time job, from home. This meant he made dinner every night, kept us stocked with fresh-baked bread, and did most of the laundry and general household management.

In September, the school opened as usual, but with many fewer kids and a sharply reduced faculty. Three weeks later, we closed. There followed a brief flirtation with opening a new school with a group of parents, and then an even briefer consideration of sending Big One to public school. And so we became homeschoolers.

Also in September, my husband got a full time+ job that actually appreciates his presence on-site. Every day.

I have spent exactly zero seconds trying to figure out what kind of homeschoolers we are. I knew I didn't need to buy any curricula. I knew we'd be working from the interests of the children, that I'd be addressing academic issues as they arose organically from the work the children are already doing. I knew we wouldn't be scheduling breaks or using worksheets. I knew we would continue to go to the library, talk about issues as they come up in the news and elsewhere, to research topics that the kids ask questions about, to go for walks, play music together, sing songs, do yoga.

For many homeschoolers, all this meets a definition of unschooling. For me, it is the logical extension of the kind of teaching I was doing in a classroom with lots of kids. The great compromise we are making without a school is that we don't have a community of kids with us on our walks and our yoga and our discussions. But it hasn't taken a whole lot of thought to get here. I already figured it out, years ago, as I grew into my role as a progressive teacher.

I have spent many many hours trying to figure out how to get a reasonable dinner on the table at a reasonable time, how to stay caught up with the laundry, and how to create a structure that will allow me to live in a reasonably tidy house without walking around behind the kids, picking up their stuff all day long. This has been a huge challenge for me. Here we are, four months in, and I still haven't completely figured it out yet.

So the knitting and the house projects were just hobbies before our world got rocked, and the work we did to pay the bills was explicitly outside the scope of this blog. Now that my "real" work is in the house, quite literally, I must admit that I struggle with my new role. Being a homeschooling mom is like being an ultra-mama, and that's a role I've never identified with.

Ironically, I became a teacher so that I would have a project of my own that I cared about, so that my children wouldn't become the center of my life.

I had no idea what I was doing.

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