I am so excited to be able to share the educational journey our family has had for these past 20 years. My name is Tammy Reel and my husband Rodger and I have been married for 26.5 years and we have four amazing kids, two sons and two daughters.
Our educational journey started out like most people: birth those little cherubs, grow them for four to five years and then off they go to pre-k or kindergarten. We had decided to send our oldest to pre-k because it was starting to be the thing to do 22ish years ago. Well by the time pre-k was done we had two children that were ready for school. Our first two were 15.5 months apart in age. We weren’t totally settled on where to send our children – our local public school or the private christian school where we knew lots of folks and had friends.
Well once we looked into the price tag of the private school I suggested to my husband that we should maybe just homeschool for kindergarten. It can’t be that hard, can it?? It turns out that it isn’t that hard but having four children under six years of age was the hard part and mama was either sending those little blessings on the first bus that passed by the next year or she was jumping on the bus. Good luck everyone!
So our first and second born went to school the following year and we had chosen the private school. Frankly, I had visions of grandeur in my mind because I was doing what every other family/parent does, send their kids off to school. I feel like this is a great time to point out that never in my life did I EVER imagine thinking I’d homeschool our children. When I was 19 years old I babysat a lot and one family I babysat for had seven children and they homeschooled their kids. Can I tell you it was wonderful, chaotic, and crazy and I knew then that I would NEVER homeschool my kids.
Back to the story. As the year progressed and we were experiencing all that school entails, I was soon spending more time hauling the 18 month old and newborn to and fro our house to the school to drop off and pick up the older two. We also started to notice that the kids were complaining about school and as we dug in and asked what the issues were, it turns out that my kindergartener was constantly in fear of her teacher because she wasn’t a fast reader and she could not tie her shoes. Yes. You read that correctly. She couldn’t tie her shoes. Velcro shoes to fix that, one, and she learned to tie them later that next summer. It’s a good thing she figured that out because she might not have been able to read and write.
Our first grader would bring papers home that had so much ink on them from corrections so I called the teacher to ask how we could help with our sons schoolwork because clearly he isn’t getting something based off of all the mark ups on his work. She told me to read the mark ups and just work on those things, and she also said that she liked to call him the “absent minded professor” because his desk wasn’t as clean as it should be and he couldn’t put his crayons away properly. Now let me also say that we are NOT parents that believe every child deserves the award. However, we do believe that positive words and encouragement go miles with children.
It was by the end of that school year that we knew that not one teacher or person knew our kids like we did and they certainly could never care about their future like we did. That is not to insinuate that all teachers have hit their expiration date like old milk, but we as the parents were very highly invested in their futures and the outcome of said future.
We made the decision that year to homeschool but we would take it year by year. I was so excited and so scared because we were told over and over that we “aren’t the professionals” or “how will they socialize?” or my favorite from family, “they’ll never be able to read and probably amount to nothing.”
Well, as the first year of homeschooling came to an end and our kids did testing, I had more fears. Would they pass? Would they completely fail, proving that homeschooling is detrimental to the growth of children? Turns out that it isn’t detrimental and our kids did fine on their tests. Did they shine like they were potential rocket scientists? Nope. Apparently they were average. Average learners. Average test takers. Decent spellers. Good at math but not quite ready to be in charge of MENSA. It was okay with me because WOOHOO! We somehow finished our first year of homeschool and everyone was alive and could count, multiply a little, and reading was coming along.
Fast forward through elementary school and we knew that there were subjects that I didn’t want to teach in junior high. We were fortunate to have after school classes available for homeschoolers and the subjects I didn’t want to teach were available. Our children were also able to take up to three classes on the campus at our private school we were homeschooling through.
For years this was our normal: homeschool most classes but for the ones that I did not feel overly knowledgeable in, we would seek out teachers that excelled in their field of study. Two of our children struggled with reading and were simply slow to read proficiently. I am thankful that we were able to homeschool through those years before reading kicked in for them as I believe that had they been in school they would have received a label of incompetence and their confidence in life and education would have plummeted. You see, we desired to not only equip our children to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic, but we wanted to create a love of lifelong learning.
I am sorry that our district taxes go to schools we do not even use because we could have used those finances to help with some intervention. We are on the flip side of those years where we had to seek out our own tutors and pay out of our own pockets the money that our taxes that benefited the local public school where we were not students, could have been used to benefit the child in need: our child. The ones we knew best and were most invested in.
When our oldest began his senior year of high school he had a one time visit with the guidance counselor at school. We were still homeschooling but Josh took two classes on the school campus so he had the obligatory consultation. It was approximately a ten minute visit wherein a man who had zero history or care for my child brought him into his office, looked over Josh’s transcript, asked him what he would like to do for a career, and then he set about telling my son why he could not do A, B, or C because he was just an average student. Again, I do not believe that every child can or should be a neurosurgeon, or that every child will be excellent at things they have no desire for. However, telling a kid that they cannot do something based off of some test scores flies in the face of all I had spent my life doing: investing in the life of my son and encouraging him that he could do whatever he wanted (but you might not want to be a neurosurgeon because there is a lot of math and you hate math…).
That was the worst consultation that could have happened because it took almost two years of college for my son to realize that his original desire to be a chiropractor and to have the chance to help people with their health was a goal he could attain. He almost quit college because he believed he couldn’t do it. Fortunately he had a bear of a mother that is their biggest cheerleader and we made a visit to a chiropractic college, and by the end of that visit he knew that was where he wanted to be. He will have his degree in December of 2020.
The following year, the same prophet of doom guidance counselor was now guidance counselor AND principal at our small private school. We were about to bite the proverbial bullet, shell out the big money and send our two youngest to school full time at our private school. We had to do an official switch over from the homeschool program to become an on campus, full time student and get approval/acceptance. Well we aren’t a huge school and we’ve been part of this school for thirteen years so we made a false assumption that they cared and that our kids would be able to switch over. In the words of Dwight Schrute: false.
Apparently the would-be eighth-grader had such poor test scores in fourth grade (four years previous) that he qualified to “continue homeschooling” (here I can only assume that he thought homeschool kids were too stupid to be able to be productive and rise to the occasion) and to get evaluated for learning disabilities but he was not welcome to be a student at the school. After scheduling a visit with the principal we promptly removed our children from the only school they’ve ever known and opted to have our children attend our public school whose district we lived in. That wasn’t our first choice of schooling but it was what had to happen for us.
By the end of the first few weeks we knew it was not the best choice but here we were, committed and hoisted by our own petard. Attending school full-time was due to circumstances that don’t belong in this story but suffice to say that after the first week of public education, our children had been offered to buy drugs, join an alternate lifestyle club, asked to be the “girlfriend” of about five different boys because she was the new girl and was new blood in the school, among other fun things. Again, if you knew us you would know that we have no desire to just squirrel away our kids and hide them from the ills of the world. We have been on mission trips to impoverished countries where we rubbed shoulders with “the least of these”, we have served at our local Salvation Army regularly during their scheduled meal times, etc.
As I type this I am reminded of all the years we’ve spent in the trenches, teaching our children, being their cheerleaders, advocating for them to be able to have services of intervention for reading that we were not able to have because we were homeschooling and we were lost in the system of bureaucracy that doesn’t allow your tax money to follow you.
In the past I would have never been a voice for homeschoolers but I believe that everyone has a time to be a voice and mine is now. I would desire to see that other families do not have to go through what we did as far as not being able to receive services when they were needed but also that their tax monies follow them in their educational choices. As of today, we still live in a country that allows you the freedom of educational choices but one flaw is that our tax money does not follow us. As a family that chose homeschooling we should have had access to the funds that our taxes help build up for the education of our children. I am fully in support of education choice for children and seeing that extended to homeschoolers.