A few people have given me grief online about how I’m not getting a “real” education, and how I should go back to “real” school. In their opinions, the only acceptable way to home school is by paying $XXX a month to do some kind of “e-learning” which will lead to an “accredited diploma” saying you’re an awesome child who completed “e-learning” or whatever the hell. Yes I cuss, deal with it. My sister’s a big “never uses swear words” type but I haven’t picked that up yet.
“Real” school feels like it was forever ago, so I want to talk a little about what my experience was like there…hopefully to work myself out of this self-doubt I’m having mid-semester as I review high school curriculum options with my family.
As far as the “why do I home school” question goes, I’m sort of a weird case because I don’t actually live with the family I lived with when I was going to “normal” school. That’s a good thing, trust me, but it wasn’t so much a “family realized how much I was suffering and cared” thing. No, I asked my original family multiple times if I could unschool and their answer was always “no.” My experiences were terrible at regular school and funnily enough, 95% of my “bullies” were teachers. In preschool…I don’t talk about preschool. In pre-k, the meanest girl in the class was the teacher’s daughter and so I was expected to put up with bullying lest I offend her oh-so-great parenting skills. Beyond that, my parents put me in Catholic school and I didn’t know anything about Catholicism because they sent me to a New Age-ish church. Yeah I know that’s weird, I don’t care. I like being honest. Anyway, the teachers would mock stuff I said in mean voices and tell me I was a bad kid basically. Family didn’t care. I then moved on to kindergarten and remember I got in trouble for getting glue on a penny because that was “defacing currency.” Fast forward to first grade. I got in trouble for taking down a kid’s name from a cubby after he moved away. Second grade, I had this teacher who “didn’t believe” in recess. She was just a beeotch but supposedly “oh she has colon cancer” was ample excuse for the fact that we were holed up in her classroom for 6 hour days with no recess and were required to be silent this entire time while being told that we were immature, rude, etc. My third grade teacher was a lot better but she had her favorites and I wasn’t one of them.
By fourth grade I was a mess, and my family was sending me to this lousy therapist. I developed mild OCD and I got in trouble for OCD rituals. In fifth grade, the teacher was a single lady in her late thirties/early forties who was just angry all the time. In sixth grade, my teacher was one of the crabbiest people I ever met. I could NEVER finish the homework she gave us, and it wasn’t because I didn’t understand the material. It was because it was a ton of busy work and a ton of perfectionism. To illustrate, we had to write a whole paper without using the words “is” or “be.”
At age eleven/twelve-ish, I started living with different people from who I grew up with. When they put me back in school, they took my disability documentation to the office and they assured my guardian that “oh yeah we’ll let her teachers know.”
Well…English teacher didn’t think my documentation was sufficient and kept making me jump through all these hoops. At the time I was having trouble sleeping and it affected my ability to stay super focused in class. The office didn’t help because supposedly it was his decision whether or not to accommodate me. Social studies teacher actually got fired eventually (but not soon enough) because he was constantly making demeaning jokes about people with mental illnesses. Foreign language teacher was a really nice lady. Math teacher was just…really bad at his job. The school sorted me incorrectly into a higher math class than made sense for me, and so I ended up struggling *a lot.* I also dealt with some bullying that was pretty bad. The girl bullying me had a fake ID (I know, right) and was possibly a teenage alcoholic but even when I shared that with the principal he just asked me if I wanted to start a lynch mob or something. So yeah this girl never got help for her addiction and I never got help for her bullshit.
My new family fought HARD to make normal schooling work for me. Poor guardian tried her hardest. She kept telling the office and my teachers that I had been in a rough family situation before and needed some consideration. Teachers just told her they wanted it “dealt with” and that I ought to be in therapy/taking medicine if it was really that bad. At the time, I was in therapy but my therapist basically said “I’m not a miracle worker” and stated that I did need accommodations and understanding to be successful and that his job wasn’t really to “change me” and change my needs so much as keep me thinking and processing and working on myself. Basically the school’s response was “well if he’s not a miracle worker, find someone who is.”
During that time, I was so scared of going back to my old family. I thought if I didn’t perform well in school, I’d be shipped back and that thought was terrifying to me. It added so much stress to my life. I remember talking to an academic counselor about that.
It went something like this:
Me: I moved away from a really bad home situation, but since this is new I’m really afraid of getting sent back if I can’t prove to the powers that be that this situation is good for me. I’m afraid that if I make bad grades, they’ll think my current living situation “isn’t working out” and it’ll give my parents leverage to make me come back.
Her: Oh, I don’t think that’s true! I think everyone involved in your care has your best interest at heart.
Me: But they don’t. My family is horrible, and I don’t even know if I’m going to finish school if I have to go back there.
Her: That sounds really hard. Are you in therapy?
Me: Not currently, Dr. G and I are taking a break, but it’s not emotional support I need. It’s basically having teachers work with me. I’m getting in trouble for missing class or falling asleep in class and I’m not sure I can handle this block schedule, mandatory attendance thing but I absolutely have to stay in school and succeed to stay safe basically. Sometimes I’ve requested alternative assignments and been ignored. I need someone to advocate for me.
Her: Well, unfortunately my hands are tied. The verbiage states that they have to give you “reasonable” accommodation and if they don’t feel that the accommodations you’re asking for are reasonable then they have a right to refuse.
My guardian tried dealing with this woman too, to no avail. A family friend who also had some kids at that school started complaining, and then they started freezing her out because her kids weren’t students anymore and they had to prioritize “current students.” I think the counseling department even blocked her e-mail address which is just…wow.
Then I was taken out of school. I felt a LOT of grief over losing “the high school experience,” whatever that is. I felt a sense of failure for not being able to finish strong. My grades were terrible (well, terrible for me – Bs and Cs when I know I could have done better). That school was private so C meant “barely passing” by their standards. I remember a teacher wanted to give me a going away card and I couldn’t even go pick it up because I felt sick even looking at that place. We did our homework and figured out how to make this work.
In the beginning, I had frequent panic attacks and so I ended up having other people present for all of my study time and telling me when to stop basically. The end of seventh grade was a lot tamer than what I’m up to now. My new family has sort of structured some of my education around helping me emotionally. Communications was a required course at my old school and instead of public speaking, we focused on de-escalating high-conflict people and having successful interactions with jerkasses. It was funny, there was an online course about this, a webinar, articles to read, etc. With English it was kind of just okay as long as I was reading. A lot of what I did was history and art last semester. It wasn’t until this semester when I decided to get a bit more structured with it. The point is, it’s okay to take your time especially when you’re dealing with hard things. It shouldn’t be about “normalizing” if the whole point of education is to enrich young people and give them the tools to be productive adults. In fact, if you get beaten down for 21 years before you get out into “the real world,” you’re not going to be able to do a job or be a successful person.
Things are a lot better than they used to be. I can actually socialize with people now, and handle responsibility and goal-setting a lot more easily. That wasn’t going to happen at regular school. I notice a lot of parents take their kids out due to ASD rather than OCD/PTSD like I have, and I’m curious as to whether or not that’s a similar experience with teachers not getting it and blaming the kid for not falling in line.
So this is embarrassing to talk about, but I figured somebody else out there has to have a kid with problems like mine and has to be wondering if home schooling would help. It does. A lot. Especially when you focus a few art sessions on drawing silly pictures of all the teachers who hurt you.