By profession, my mother is an educator. She’s no longer on a school district’s payroll, but she is a teacher at heart. In 2009, she moved back to her home country, the Dominican Republic, where she is still living out her passion for teaching by offering free tutoring sessions to kids that are unable to attend school and/or their parents can’t teach them because they are illiterate.
In 2001, at the peak of her career, my mom made the decision to leave behind the name she had built for herself among educators, the public school system, and our home in southeast Georgia. She moved us to Virginia where she had gotten a new job as principal of a Christian elementary school. The school was located at the back of a college campus in the country. The elementary school was established years prior for the children of the staff and faculty of the college, but by the time we arrived, the school had been shut down. My mother was basically handed the keys and told, “Let’s see what you can do.”
Looking back, I realize what an incredible feat reopening the school was for my mom. Especially because she came from an entirely different background in education, she had to learn about Christian education over one summer. Though she had been a Christian all of my life before moving, she never taught science or any subject from a Christian perspective. It was now her job to incorporate some kind of Bible truth into all her lessons.
Truth be told, my mom’s primary motive for accepting the job and moving had little to do with the appeal of the challenge set before her. It was for me that she made this drastic change in her career. I was supposed to enter 5th grade the year that we moved. Though my mom loved her job and her students, she wanted something different for me. I was struggling a lot with math in school and, as a devout Christian, my mother wanted me to grow up in an environment that fostered Christian beliefs. With her new job, she could provide both a Christian education and homework help. I was her first officially enrolled student.
But at 10 years old, the change was a lot for me. Though I was born into a Christian home, we lived pretty regular lives back in Georgia. As a kid, I didn’t see much of a difference between us and the rest of the world, other than the fact that we prayed at every meal and went to church every weekend. Our family had already made some changes in our lives that I surprisingly didn’t resist. But apparently, moving to Virginia was too much for me to handle.
Meeting the people who worked and lived on the campus of the Christian school was a culture shock for me. Everyone ate strange vegan food, the ladies wore skirts and dresses that reached their ankles, and the kids didn’t watch TV. I didn’t like our new home; I wanted to go back to ours in Georgia and I missed my friends. Not knowing how to cope with our new life, I became defiant and very angry inside.
For a long time I didn’t have any real friends. Two kids on campus who were brothers made fun of me because I was “chubby” (we hadn’t been on the vegan diet long enough for me to lose my baby weight). I would rub in their faces the life I came from and how they were all missing out. I did it because I knew nothing of their lives and it made me feel displaced. In return they bullied me, and at a young age I slipped into a deep depression.
I lasted a year in the new school. Eventually I didn’t want to go to school anymore because of the things my peers were saying about me. (Fact: bullying is actually one of the biggest reasons some kids request to be homeschooled.) So one weekend I told my mother how I was feeling and how difficult the past year had been for me. I asked if I could drop out and study from home and, to my amazement, she agreed. She would bring home for me every day whatever classwork the other kids were working on.
My mother — a single parent, an elementary school principal, and eventually the Education Department Chair for the college — had a lot on her plate. As a result, my homeschooling experience was far from formal. Many times for school each day I would grab a book and wing it. Or, if my mom was teaching a college class, she would let me sit in and sometimes I’d complete the assignments given to her students. I received my GED in 2008.
My years of homeschool were very atypical, but in many ways it was the dream life. By the time I graduated, I had traveled to seven different countries, one U.S. territory and visited 25 states. I went through a lot personally during those years, but I wouldn’t have traded my traveling adventures for formal education. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I felt rich because I was getting to see the world. I was ignorant about a lot of things, but I had learned lessons of love and life that could never be taught in a textbook.
That is the heart of true homeschooling. And parenting, really. It’s about being responsible in preparing our kids for the real world and yet giving them the freedom to discover on their own. It’s less about creating a perfect life and more about modeling a sincere appreciation for the things that really matter.
As for me, homeschooling just might be in my near future. My son started kindergarten this year and I was fortunate enough to have found a great school that shares many of the values I have when it comes to education. But unless the school adds on another grade level we’re going to have to find something else. The school that my son is in now has really set the bar high and I don’t believe there are any other schools in our district that come close to the quality of education he’s receiving. For that reason, I am seriously considering homeschooling when he enters first grade next year.
I have a year to figure it out and prepare but I am curious to see how things go should I decide to homeschool. A single mom, entrepreneur, and homeschooling parent – that would be wild.