Thursday, August 17, 2006

Homeschool Part 1

Some of you have asked me to post about homeschooling. This is the first of my thoughts on "why we chose to homeschool". I will eventually tell you more about homeschooling itself.

After finishing high school in 1976, I went on the seven-year plan to finish college. Although I started out strong taking lots of classes, marriage changed everything. One husband, two kids, and four colleges later, I graduated in 1983 with a BS in Education. My first teaching field was English, and my second teaching field was art. Two weeks after graduation, we moved to McAllen, TX. I got my first teaching job at Mission High School in Mission, TX. I taught 9th grade, Regular English classes as opposed to Honors, College Prep, or Remedial classes. MHS was a large AAAAA school, which graduated 600 to 700 seniors, but had about 1000 freshmen students. I believe at one point, there were nine freshman English teachers. It was an eye-opening experience.

I was very lucky to get a job at MHS because the superintendent was a man from the "old school". He supported his teachers and administrators. Corporal punishment was still allowed and was implemented often. He and my principal, Gustavo Zapata, ran a tight ship. There were four vice-principals – some who were helpful and some who were not. It did not take long to figure out who would support you and who was a slacker. The same goes for teachers. Everyone knew who actually taught and who was just biding time. I could digress here and talk about teacher competency tests, but I will save that for another time. I also figured out pretty quickly to make friends with the school secretary and the janitors - they hold the power to get things done.

That first year of teaching was pretty tuff. I had five classes of approximately 30 students each. The students came and went according to migrant worker jobs. As I have said before, most of my students were graduates of ESOL programs. The real problem for me was not discipline or language (I'll discuss those issues later), but motivation. How do you motivate kids who do not care about school? If I assigned homework, no one did it. If I gave a reading assignment, no one did it – even if I gave time in class to do the reading, no one did it. How can you teach literature when no one reads the story? I began to read the stories to the class having them follow along and sometimes read aloud. I wrote notes on the board that covered any tests having them copy the notes. At the end of the day, I was hoarse and covered in chalk dust. I gained weight and my face was constantly broken out. I tried everything to motivate my students. Still, it was hard to get them to do anything. They spent more time trying to cheat on a test rather than just studying for it. I probably failed half of my students that first year because I did not know what else to do for them. My principal backed me up – he just had to hire an extra English teacher to cover the extra load the next year. Possibly, it was just an odd class of 9th graders, and I should say that there were some good students. At one point this kid did a complete turn around in his grades. He went from making F’s to A’s. The light bulb just came on for him. He told me he had just figured it all out finally. He went on to College Prep classes. The light came on for me, too. He gave me hope, yet I still fretted over how to get other students to learn.

On parent/teacher night, my teacher friend who taught College Prep classes would get classrooms full of parents checking on their children. I might have five parents total for the evening. Even the parents did not care. Things had certainly changed in the seven years since I graduated from high school. Were kids always such a problem? Was I just from the "Leave It to Beaver" planet?

My father told me, "There are kids who will learn – no matter what you do. There are kids who will not learn – no matter what you do. It is the kids in the middle – the ones who have not decide which way they want to go - that you must work to win over." Let me tell you, trying to win them over or motivate them is one hard job, but it is a job that I loved. I found I really liked teaching young people. It was the love-job of my life.

I tell you all of that to tell you this: Although I loved my students and I loved teaching, I also realized that the public school system was not what I wanted for my own children. In this post, I have written about motivation of students. I have not mentioned behavior and lack of respect and other problems in public schools. This was just the tip of the iceberg that made me start thinking, "What am I going to do with my own kids when they get into public school?"

1 comment:

Buck Pennington said...

Let me tell you, trying to win them over or motivate them is one hard job, but it is a job that I loved.

Thank God for teachers like you, Lou. I was fortunate to have had many teachers like yourself in school, and I'm oh-so-thankful.

And thanks for beginning the homeschool series!