Recently I decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer/blogger. Prior to this I was a teacher for the best part of 15 years. Throughout this time, I taught psychology at A Level. I became a teacher to make a difference. Sounds cheesy, but that was truly my intention.
One of my favourite films as a teenager was Dead Poets Society. I dreamed of being the female equivalent of John Keating (Robin Willams’ character) and yearned for students to stand aloft their desks and recite Whitman’s ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ just for me. Totally indulgent, I know, and not quite the reality that I was presented with.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel very privileged to have worked with some young people who have made a huge difference to my life both personally and professionally, as I hope I have to theirs. For the most part the experience was a positive one, but over those 15 years, things changed. My workload became more about developing skills to teach students how to pass an exam or get high grades, regardless of real understanding and threatening my passion for the subject...
The decision for me to leave my teaching career was not taken lightly and it prompted lots of discussion in my house - one such discussion was that of homeschooling (something we had always talked about but never really saw as a reality due to the work commitments of myself and my husband). Only a month later (after LOTS of research, conversation and reading), the decision was made to write the de-registration letter and embark on a homeschooling journey with our 13 year old daughter.
It is surprisingly easy to take your child out of school - I had visions of the police knocking on my door and taking me away or being dragged out of the supermarket in handcuffs for ‘irresponsible parenting’. But no, I simply had to write a letter that comprised of about three sentences explaining that I would like my child to be taken off the school register with effect from a particular date, and that was it! I know many others who have been contacted by their local authority and have been asked to show evidence of teaching and learning, but not us. We have been left in perfect solitude to navigate this new and exciting venture ourselves and although this wouldn’t suit everyone, we are more than happy with this arrangement.
The title of this piece is ‘Why I Decided To Homeschool My 13 Year Old’ - there are two parts to our story really. One is what I have alluded to above; (as a teacher) my disillusionment with a mainstream teaching system that is robbing young people of experiencing education as a positive and creative journey that offers opportunities that are appropriate to each and every individual. And the other is my daughter showing signs of stress and anxiety that had started to become overwhelming for her.
Tilly was born in the month of March. My pregnancy was straight forward and I gave birth to her naturally at 6.16am on a Monday after a short labour in a midwife run unit. It was quiet and the sun was just coming up and I can remember feeling a sense of calm, elation and togetherness that was quite overwhelming. I had a mental conversation with her as she was entering this world, telling her that we are on this journey together and that I was holding her hand all the way - she arrived peacefully. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty painful but I felt such a sense of protection over her and that we were in it together - those feelings kept me feeling in control and feeling strong.
Tilly is the middle child of three girls. She has a very positive relationship with both of her sisters and always has - phew!
Homeschooling was first mentioned in our home when Tilly was at the beginning of Year 7 - 11 years old. She had found the transition from a small primary school to a large comprehensive rather overwhelming and her anxiety seemed to be getting worse with every day. At first we joked about it; “Let’s just run away and live on a commune and grow our own vegetables!” Fast forward one year and things had got significantly worse. Tilly was frustrated that she wasn’t making much progress as much of the teachers’ time was spent dealing with disruptive students.
She also struggled with the idea that everyone was encouraged and expected to be an extrovert (standing up reading in front of a class may seem like an easy task to some but for those with anxiety it can become like a prison, from which escape is impossible.) Tilly is naturally an introvert and in a world and educational system where being social and outgoing and confident is prized over many other things, being quiet and contemplative are seen as inferior qualities, no matter how hard-working you are.
I feel strongly about not trying to change my child’s personality and outlook as this is what makes her the wonderful, compassionate, capable person that she is.
So began our new journey. We are currently nine months in and things are going well. I work in the mornings and late afternoon, during which time Tilly does various things independently; exercise (yoga, running, trampolining) reading or engaging with some pre-arranged self-guided study. During our homeschool hours (approx three hours per day) we study English, psychology, and art and design. Tilly also has a private maths tutor who she sees for two hours a week.
She has gone from dreading maths and feeling ill with anxiety to looking forward to her weekly one-to-one sessions where she can learn at her own pace and truly be herself. She also uses an on-line site, Duo-Lingo, to teach herself German. Her motivation and willingness to work independently astounds me every day. I also recognise that I am learning so much from her - I know that not all children would be so self-motivated and this is one of the reasons why we ultimately decided that homeschooling was a good option for Tilly.
I feel it is important to also say that I have two other daughters. My eldest is 17 and went through the mainstream school system, she did not particularly have a positive experience for all of the reasons discussed above, but she tolerated it. In her own words, “Secondary school toughens you up and I guess I could deal with that in a way others might not be able to.” My youngest is 11 and is in her final year at primary school. So many people have asked if we will homeschool her and my answer is that it is unlikely. She loves school and she is far more sociable and outgoing than her sister. She is quite the extrovert and loves being involved in dramatic productions or sports - I have asked her is she sees homeschool as a option and she said she would prefer to go to school. This is absolutely fine with us and reinforces the notion that all children are different. We will support her as best we can when her secondary school journey begins...
Just because my three girls have come from the same gene pool does not mean they are the same - they are not. They are different and the way that they learn is different and I feel very lucky that a collision of changes in circumstance has led us down a path that enables us to support all of our children emotionally and educationally in a way that suits them all as individuals. I am also so very proud of how my girls have supported each other. I was worried that my eldest would be annoyed that she was never offered the option of homeschool, but no, she says she is thrilled that Tilly is happy again - how nice is that?!