Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Substitute Teacher – Homeschool Style

“My head is bad. Could you do some school with the kids?”

This or a similar text message sometimes appears on my phone and my mission for that day promptly solidifies. Today my job is to be a substitute teacher – not at a public school somewhere in our local educational system, but right here at home. You see, my daughter, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was twenty weeks pregnant, is suffering from side effects of chemotherapy and the many associated surgeries her diagnosis required.

Home Education When Mommy is Ill

Like others who suffer from some hidden disease, her outward appearance is tragically deceptive. Putting on a deceptively happy face is a part of the lives of many who suffer from fibromyalgia, thoracic outlet syndrome, migraine headaches, and myriad other outwardly indistinguishable illnesses. These chronic conditions take their toll but there is no broken arm, missing limb, gaping wound, or any other outward symptom to illuminate how (and how much) the victim is suffering.

When these debilitating days happen – and they don’t come with advance notice – life abruptly gets put on hold. Any plans to take the kids to the park on a sunny, early spring day vanish in an instant. The disappointment of not being able to do even the most mundane, household tasks is mind numbing. Yet life marches on. Family still gets hungry, household chores still demand attention, and home educated students still need to hit the books.

Home Educating Nana

That’s where I come in. As a mother who previously homeschooled, I am now a good choice for substitute teacher. Since our families are close, both in relationship and geography, I can be available at a moment’s notice. If there is an obstacle to my performing home education duties, the children can pack up and go to another grandma’s house – books and all. One of the bonuses of home education is that it can happen anywhere as long as there is teacher and student.

Some home educated children live a highly structured life, as far as lessons go. The curriculum is planned in advance, there is a set amount of work to be completed throughout a particular school term, and these requirements are on a schedule much like their public school counterparts. Others take the opposite approach and set a wide goal, working daily to accomplish the work, but at the pace of the children. A happy medium can also be found – some structure and some freedom. Our system falls loosely somewhere in this mix.

As a homeschooling mother myself, I have taught using the highly structured Seton curriculum yet adapted it to a cross-country trip from Kentucky to Maine. On the other hand, we have set a rigid schedule and stuck to it. The method ebbed and flowed with the student’s needs. An ADHD son required some flexibility, yet a modicum of structure gave him some much needed security as well.

The Grands

When our daughters’ children came of age, school wise, I became their first teacher. It was a natural progression for me, since my husband and I always wanted a large family but were denied by the infertility caused by a cancer diagnosis. What a wonderful time! Being a stay at home, homeschool ‘mom’ a second time around was an immeasurable blessing!

Then our daughter’s cancer experience was met with another harsh side effect - she was let go by an employer, after nine years of exemplary service. The reason? She was seeing too many doctors. Never mind that her performance never suffered, her case load equaled (or exceeded) that of healthy coworkers, and she produced quality work.

I have to admit that I went through a period of mourning at the discontinuation of my established status of being in charge of two littles. Yet being home with her children was such a blessing for their mommy – so we adapted. Taught by their mother, the kids still spent both quantity and quality time with me. Sometimes ‘school’ was held at my house – on the balcony, in the backyard, or the living room.

Homeschool Reset

Now our daughter’s symptoms don’t only persist, they are gaining frequency and intensity. Today there will be yet another appointment with a neurologist. Pray that he finds an acceptable answer and a way to make life just a bit more normal. In the meantime, I will gladly remain ‘on call’ for a homeschooling assist – whenever the need arises.

All in all, with the flexibility of home education the two students are thriving. These bright little sponges soak up what we teach them and more. They eagerly seek out knowledge and reluctantly adhere to the ‘only 25 books each’ limit on frequent library visits. A repertoire of prayers that would be the envy of many Catholic high school religion teachers and a commanding knowledge of scripture as well as the lives of saints, from common to obscure, are also stored in their little minds. Whenever we encounter strangers (read new friends) they are quickly amazed at these articulate, bright little conversationalists. We (and they) are truly blessed!

Homeschool, where a Spring Break visit from cousins turns into biology class!