When traditional school fails your child mid-year, what's a parent to do? As one desperate mom discovers, there's no place like home.
By Christina Tynan-Wood
I'll just say it: my daughter's school is a disaster. For over a year, I was unhappy with the academics. Then one day last month, an email from my daughter's seventh grade English teacher pushed me over the edge.
Months earlier, the teacher asked us get a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird so students could read it as a class. Note: this was the first time she assigned a book to read — which was alarming in itself. Week after week passed without her assigning a chapter. Finally, via email, she announced, “We don’t have time to read the book. So we will watch the movie.”
I'd been trying to persuade Ava to switch schools for 18 months. A social butterfly who thrives on her friendships, she'd refused. But this incident was too much, even for her. “I want to learn something,” she told me after school one day. “I’m sad about it. But I want to leave.”
I seized my moment. It was too late in the term to switch to another school we liked, but that was no reason to let her brain languish for another four months. The next time I went to the school, it was to fill out the paperwork to transfer her to our home school.
A growing trend
I'm not the only parent being pushed by circumstances to take over my child’s schooling. A 2007 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, found that over half of America's 1.5 million homeschooled students named concerns about the school environment, dissatisfaction with instruction, or other circumstances like health and travel as reasons for leaving their school. And homeschooling is steadily rising: between 1999 and 2007, homeschooling made a 74 percent relative increase.
Rebecca Kochenderfer, senior editor at Homeschool.com and author of Homeschooling and Loving It!, doesn’t recommend my hasty start. “It’s best to move thoughtfully, to finish out the term if possible,” she says. But sometimes emergency homeschooling happens. “I’ve seen a lot of it recently,” says Linda Dobson, founder of Parentatthehelm.com and author of several books on homeschooling. When things go terribly wrong and you need to react quickly, homeschooling's a good fallback — even if just as a stopgap measure.
Rediscovering a love of learning
Although I acted quickly, I didn't make this decision lightly. You see, I’ve done this before. When my high-school-age son was in the fourth grade, I pulled him out in the middle of the day when his teacher told me she refused to work with him until I put him on medication — even though a doctor insisted he didn't have ADD. I acted out of shock and anger, but it turned out well. Within weeks, Cole rediscovered his love of learning and discovered interests — history, programming — that still inspire him. He studied at home the remainder of fourth grade and all of fifth. This time around, I was ready to home school the minute Ava was willing.
I'm a freelance writer, a life not unlike perpetual graduate school, so incorporating Ava’s education into my day was simple: I set up her own desk in my office and signed her up for online classes at K12.com. Her classes were live 24 hours after I filled out that transfer form. Her books arrived a few days later. And within two weeks of our “emergency homeschool” decision, she's read several books, is two chapters into writing her own novel, has discovered a fascination with biology (she wears a lab coat to the office) and Native American history (Columbus was a jerk!), and — with a tutor's help — discovered she's quite good at math.
There are dozens of reasons a school suddenly doesn't work for a child and family: bullying, a bored child or one with attention problems, illness, a job relocation, a floundering school district, the lack of funds for private school. “Listen to your child,” suggests Kochenderfer. "....If your child is resisting school, take it seriously. That act of listening can be great for your relationship with your child and for your child’s self-esteem. You can always go back to school. But your child will remember that you listened.”
Next page: Don't burn bridges