Back to School for Mom

Ah, “back to school” rings excitement in some ears and trepidation in others. What is it for you? My first year of home schooling sent me “back to school” in spite of the fact that I had a degree in education with a teaching certificate saying I was qualified to teach kindergarten through eighth grade. It was through the mind of my five-year-old son Jake that I learned how teaching and learning are connected. The moment I attempted applying the university-taught methods of teaching reading and math to Jake, my real teacher training began.

At an early age, Jake expressed his ideas differently. He said, “Pass me by the salt” instead of “Pass me the salt” and “Let’s do the word cross puzzle” instead of crossword puzzle.  Often he would reverse one or two words in a sentence. Sometimes he referred to yesterday as today or tomorrow and visa versa. One always knew what he meant, but his unusual wording made the listener think. I thought maybe Jake was not hearing what we said as we carefully taught him our language, so when he was four, I took him to an ear, nose, and throat specialist who said his hearing was fine, but he probably needed speech therapy before entering school.

Jake often had his hand “in the cookie jar,” and he tested everyone to their limits, but he had a zest for life and a love of experiential learning that was enviable. To Jake everything was the most interesting. His parents were often frustrated, for he seldom carried out instructions. I thought he was not listening well, and he frequently got into trouble for it.  It was, however, his unique way of constructing sentences that bothered me most. What made him do this?

I decided to hold him back a year and enroll him in kindergarten when he was six. Having taught second grade years before, I knew many boys would have benefited had their parents waited another year to send them to school. God answers a mother’s prayers for her children, and I “knew” keeping him home a year was best.

One Thursday afternoon in April, shortly after Jake’s fifth birthday, I took him to the neighborhood school to see if we could get the speech therapy the doctor had suggested. This being a government school, the proper channels were taken, and the correct amount of paperwork was completed on Jake’s behalf. I was told Jake would receive a battery of tests that would include IQ, academic achievement, emotional maturity, and physical coordination.

“What about a speech test?” I queried.

Oh yes, but that would come later, I was told.

With naiveté, I reiterated that the doctor had just asked us to get speech therapy. Now I had shown my ignorance of the process. This is not a good thing to show the “government” officials. After giving my permission for the battery of tests, Jake was whisked off, and I was told to come back two hours later. I promptly returned, at the designated time, to be told that Jake needed to return Friday morning to finish his testing, and then we could talk about speech therapy. Now we were getting somewhere, I thought.

Friday morning we arrived with Jake bright-eyed and ready for more of these “fun” tests. Again I left, returning at noon. After a two-hour lunch, back I went for the final afternoon testing session. At the end of the day, I was informed that I would have to wait until Monday morning to have all the test results analyzed and charted. I obligingly returned Monday morning with great anticipation that I would learn of the doctor-recommended speech therapy for Jake. I was not prepared for the counselor’s reply.

In a patronizing voice, the counselor informed me that Jake had no speech problems and had scored “extremely” high on all the tests. She went on to say the only problem he had was that he stayed at home with me everyday. I was speechless.  She continued, “If Jake were allowed to be in a classroom of his peers, all his troubling speech patterns would disappear.” She added, “His problems come from being at home.”

THIS WOMAN SAID THE WRONG THING TO THIS MAMA. I am sure that fire shot from my eyes and smoke spewed from my ears. I rose, mustered all the composure I had, and thanked her for her time. I was exercising extraordinary self-control as I headed to the door, and just as I turned the knob to open it, she said, “Feel free to come any day and enroll Jake for kindergarten.” Quickly exiting, I grabbed my precious child and hugged him tightly all the way to the car and I thanked God for enabling me to escape without harming this government employee, the government property, or myself!

I learned a valuable lesson that day but did not get the answer to my question about speech therapy. Through the summer, I listened carefully to Jake’s speech patterns, knowing God would answer my prayer about what to do. One thing I knew was that Jake would spend his kindergarten year at home with me.

When his friends went off to school, I told Jake we were going to have school at home that year, and he could go to school the next year. Of course he was happy with this idea (What five-year-old wants to leave his mother?), and he promptly told me he wanted to learn to read, to tell time, and to count money. I was thrilled with his high expectations.

I started to gather my tools and map my strategy. After all, I had taught in public schools. I was experienced in planning reading and math lessons. During my planning period, I had the “urge” to take Jake to Texas Tech’s speech and hearing center for testing. I followed the urge, and, one Indian summer day in September, I entered the drab, gray-tiled building with Jake in tow. After three hours of testing, I was informed that indeed Jake had no speech problems but a language disorder called “auditory processing disorder” with time and spatial relationships his weaknesses. Maybe this was why he confused yesterday with tomorrow and said, “Pass me by the salt.”

Unlike the first government agent, this one spoke to me as an equal. She said her department could help Jake if I would bring him twice a week for an hour each time. By November, the neighbors had noticed a marked improvement in Jake’s communication. The tasks were tedious for Jake, but the instructors were determined.  Exercises helping him distinguish his relationship to other things were covered as well as space and time exercises.

In the meantime, tools in hand, confident, and feeling very blessed to have the opportunity to teach my own child to read, I sat Jake down for our first lesson. His eagerness and anticipation filled the air, and his eyes shone brightly. I proceeded with my instruction.

Soon I noticed the sparkle left his eye, his smile disappeared, and he slumped in his chair. I paused and asked my student where his zest had gone. He answered, “Mom, why do we have to do it that way?”

Now, I do not know about you, but I was raised that the teacher knows her business, and you do not question her. The Lord immediately opened my mind and, instead of expressing any number of negative emotions, I said, “What do you have in mind?”

What followed was the beginning of my teacher training. I listened to my five-year-old tell me how he wanted to learn to read, to tell time, and to count money. I had not been taught these methods at the university, but Jake knew how he needed to learn and was able to tell me. I noticed the sparkle return to his eye, his smile reappeared, and he rose from his chair with enthusiasm. I, too, smiled, for I realized how much more fun this would be.

That day God encouraged me to listen to my five-year-old. I did, and I learned. We continued the sessions at Texas Tech through his kindergarten year. The exercises were not easy for him, but the instructors gently pushed him, and his progress was clear.  I learned that at least 25% of the population has some degree of auditory processing difficulty, but the best was yet to come. The government agents at Texas Tech told me that home schooling Jake was the best thing for him because of the many auditory distractions in classrooms.

In spite of this advice and the fruitful year we had at home, I was still not convinced. Swayed, yes, but not convinced that I could meet all Jake’s educational needs. We had enjoyed his kindergarten year together and accomplished Jake’s goals, but what about socialization, chemistry, calculus?

By the end of the school year, Jake had advanced far beyond kindergarten level.  His communication skills had improved, and he was more confident in himself; therefore, I thought about enrolling him in first grade. I made arrangements to spend a full morning in a first grade class at the school he would be attending. I arranged childcare and drove to the school. Before getting out of the car, I prayed that God would give me a clear answer concerning my son’s education. I acknowledged that I needed more than a nudge and asked to be “hit over the head” with the answer.

Class began at 8:15 a.m. By 10:00 a.m., I had been sufficiently “smacked upside the head.” I stayed until noon and could not wait to get out of there. I ran to my car with a peace that passes understanding. I had asked, and I had received. I never looked back.

The home schooling years to come were phenomenal. I learned so much from studying with my children that I opened a tutoring service for students of all ages with learning differences. Jake had taught me more than one way to learn. To this day, I continue to listen to students who know how they need to learn. It makes sense that when God puts a “difference” in someone, HE advises that person of the difference.

I often wonder if home school parents without teaching degrees know these things. Maybe it was the institutionalized, government training that narrowed my thinking. I learned that first year not to worry about anything concerning school. I just prayed and waited for the answer and waited longer if I needed. God always gave the answer. I look at my diploma on the wall and wonder how I was deemed “qualified” to teach. I learned more from my five-year-old in one year about teaching and learning than four years in college had taught me.

Using the limitless resources this world has to offer as my curriculum, we all learned more than I could have imagined. I listened to my children’s interests, prayed, waited on the Lord, and used every resource that presented itself. We used library books, books on tape, old books, new books, department heads at the local university, people from all walks of life who crossed our paths just as we needed them, and a very few textbooks. I never bought a graded curriculum.

In all this, I have learned about prayer. It requires total faith and a keen ear on the “prayer’s” part. That young teacher of mine is now twenty and in his senior year of college with a 4.0 average.

I hope “back to school” rings excitement in your ears. What blessings our children are!