Home Education Magazine
September-October 1999 - Articles
To the Edge and Back: Look at Burn Out - Ann Lloyd
Frustrated and defeated, I drove frantically from school to school looking for an alternative educational solution. Without telling my husband, family, or friends, I investigated every public, private, Christian, Catholic, Montessori, and yes, even one Yeshiva school. I interviewed teachers, talked to principals and sat in on classes. Yet with every school I found a flaw. No matter how wonderful the program sounded, I couldn't bring myself to enroll my children.
With young children, some element of parental fatigue is expected. Endless diapers, interrupted sleep, and relentless crying can quickly lead us to the edge. Even the best need a break. Yet, for many homeschooling moms the pressures of teaching and parenting build more subtly as our children age. When my children were younger, I was full of confidence. Kindergarten math? No problem. In fact, by the time I encountered my first serious homeschooling crisis, I had been successfully teaching my children for 6 years. I was a homeschooling support group leader and had obtained my masters in Education. My thesis? A study of homeschooling families. I had read all the books including Home School Burnout, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Yet, my experience and education did little to prevent me from burning out.
Our crisis began with a relatively simple assignment in 6th grade math. As I stared at the fraction problems before me, I had absolutely no idea what the text was attempting to explain - a reality that was quickly becoming more common than I'd care to admit. I reached for the teacher's manual. My son waited. I read; still no clue. I read and re-read the manual out loud... slowly... quietly... loudly... yet, still the assignment eluded me. Finally, sounding much like a frustrated 6th grader myself, I slammed the book closed and conceded that we would consult Daddy this evening. My two younger children had finished their assignments and we moved on.
Yet, as the morning progressed, I encountered two more concepts in our 6th grade curriculum that I had never seen and was totally unable to decipher. Frustrated, embarrassed, and angry, I informed my son that these concepts were irrelevant. He looked at me in shock. If I've managed to live my whole life without encountering them, I raged, then you can do the same.
I felt like an idiot. This was only 6th grade. How could I fail to understand three different 6th grade concepts? How will I ever survive teaching high school? Worse, what kind of example was I setting? The questions and the guilt went on and on. By the time my poor husband arrived home, I was totally distraught. He listened to my saga, helped Jon with the math, and put the other two children in bed. He tried again to console me, but to no avail.
The days wore on after that, but the damage was done. I felt inadequate as a teacher, a parent, and a mom. After visiting every educational institution within a fifty mile radius, I knew that sending my children off to school was not an option. I also knew I could not bear to face another year of self-defeat.
Determined to find a solution, I arranged for a sitter, made a cup of tea and sat down to rethink my dilemma. Pencil and paper in hand, I first made a list of all my children's accomplishments; not bad. Next I set out to define my problem. Which aspects were real and which were imagined? Was my lack of knowledge on Ancient Greece truly destroying my children? What did I want for them as adults? Why was I homeschooling in the first place? I made list after list until I had examined virtually every aspect of our home schooling effort.
At last, emotionally drained and surrounded by discarded paper, I discovered my mistake. I had chosen the wrong curriculum - simple, right? Not necessarily. I knew that a good curriculum had to fit my schedule, time constraints, and lifestyle, as well as my pocketbook. I also knew that the chosen curriculum must fit the child's learning style. In fact, over the last 6 years, I had tried at least a half dozen different programs. After a great deal of research and thought, I had selected a packaged curriculum offering a classical education. The program was challenging, required little advanced preparation, and for the last few years seemed to be working beautifully for our family. There was only one fundamental problem: My curriculum was beginning to make me feel like an idiot.
In my attempt to offer my children a well-rounded classical education, I had inadvertently put myself in a position to encounter new topics daily. Subjects such as Greek mythology, art history, or sculpture eluded me. Having absolutely no previous exposure to many of these areas, I was constantly challenged. Each time I stumbled on a concept or mispronounced a word, I felt less capable. I worried that my children would think my master's degree was a farce, or worse, follow my example and dismiss difficult topics as irrelevant in the real world.
Clearly, I am capable of learning and teaching all of these areas. Yet, my mistake was in trying to do so with a program based on the learning styles of my children without considering my own. Although this packaged program fit my ideals, it didn't fit me. By not considering my own gifts and talents I had unknowingly selected a curriculum that constantly played on my weaknesses. I am an intense kinesthetic learner who loves unit studies. I also feel very strongly that the child's interest should motivate and drive them. So what was I doing pushing regimented textbooks and worksheets? Quite simply, I was racing to the edge.
Though it was difficult to abandon such a wonderful and expensive program, I realized that staying with a curriculum that didn't allow me to succeed personally in my children's eyes would continue to prove disastrous. Attempting to provide my children with a well-rounded classical education was certainly admirable, but it wasn't necessary.
Elated by this realization, I jumped from my paper ridden seat and frantically packed away 6 years of a traditional curriculum along with many other workbooks, worksheets and textbooks. In their place I organized informational categories of children's books: a section for science, history, poetry, music, and art. By the time my family returned the house was a mess and I was exhausted. Knowing better than to ask for an explanation, my husband wisely suggested we go out for a pizza.
As I sat through dinner that night, I listened - truly listened to my family's conversation. Our discussion ran the gamut. First, there was talk of the museum they had visited. The children were eager to tell what they had seen and learned. During a brief pause, my oldest son inquired about government issued bonds. My husband answered him in great detail and the discussion flourished. Not to be ignored for long, my daughter, Katherine, began counting out loud in Japanese, a skill I knew she had been working on, but I had no idea she had mastered. As the elderly couple seated next to us looked on in disbelief, I smiled to myself. Pizza Hut was a perfect choice for dinner, for, as their commercial says, I too had been to the edge and back.
©1999, Ann Lloyd
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