May 9, 2016

Mistakes New Home Schoolers Make: Part I

If you are new to home schooling, or are considering home schooling, then you'll likely find your mind riddled with questions.  What curriculum should I use? How many hours a day should we "do school"?  Should I ask my school's Superintendent for advice?  Will I want to wring my kids' necks before our first month of schooling is complete?  (Yes, by the way.  Yes, you will want to wring your kids' necks at least once before you end your home schooling journey.  But, I promise, it's worth the struggle!)

Allow me to answer a few of your questions by addressing some mistakes new home schoolers often make that can have you pulling your hair out in no time.  Trust me; I learned the hard way.

You've made the decision to home school.  You've read over your state regulations.  You've talked with some people who've done it or are doing it.  You think you've got this whole home school thing figured out.  You just want to be sure you've dotted all your I's and crossed all your T's.  What's next?


Don't do it!  It's tempting, I know.  It's the Superintendent, after all.  He or she knows all things school.  Right?  Wrong!  The Superintendent knows all things PUBLIC school.  Many of them are in the dark when it comes to home education.  But they won't tell you that.  They'll print a copy of the home education regulations, they'll read over them once or twice, and they'll answer your questions as if they're an expert.  This is where you'll run into trouble.

I had the regulations figured out, for the most part.  I just had a few questions about testing, because our first year of homeschooling was also the first year we were required to test.  I knew I could choose who to administer the test, but that the Superintendent could say no to my choice.  Conveniently, I had a friend who happened to teach in our district, and also happened to have been my son's 1st grade teacher, so she knew him well.  I asked her if she'd be willing to administer his test to him.  She said yes.

Enter Superintendent.

She agreed to meet with me.

After much hemming and hawing about the type of test I should use and why they think it's the best one, I told her that we had asked our friend to administer the test to my son, and that we'd probably be using the CAT test (not the one they thought was best).  The Superintendent about came unglued!  She hollered at me, "I don't appreciate you speaking with my employees without going through me first, and I'm not comfortable with you using the services of anyone employed by our district."

Excuse me?

If she were at all familiar with our state regulations, she would not have reacted that way.  In New York, the parents may choose which test to use, which location to test in, and the date and time of the testing, and the Superintendent has no say.  The parents may also choose the person they want to administer the test (no need to be a certified teacher, either).  The only thing the Superintendent can do is either consent or not consent to our choice of person.  He/she cannot dictate who we choose.  Which means that I was well within my rights to ask my friend to administer the test.  Not only that, but it also made sense to ask her before I spoke with our Superintendent, so that I would know whether or not our friend was even willing and able, and so that I could find an alternate person in the case that our friend was not willing or able.

My intention was to be prepared in advance, to save time, and to streamline the process.  Our Superintendent, however, didn't see it that way.  She thought I was usurping her authority when, in fact, she was usurping her own authority, because she didn't have an understanding of our state's home education regulations.

It took several written letters between her and me, as well as the threat of bringing in a home education lawyer and taking the matter to the school board, before she finally relented.  I don't think she realized she was in the wrong even after I showed her the regulations that supported my stance, but it was the end of the school year, and I think she was just plain tired.  Turns out, she resigned that summer.  I don't know if our interactions had anything to do with that decision, but I do know that we haven't had any difficulties with the two Superintendents we've had since, neither of which did I ever meet with to discuss home school related issues.  I learned my lesson.

While it might seem like a good idea to meet with your Superintendent, either because you think they might know the regulations, or because you want to establish a good rapport with them, it's probably in your best interest to skip that meeting.  Instead, becoming intimately familiar with your state regulations.  Get to know other home schooling parents who have been doing it for a while and can help you understand the requirements, whether in person or via social media.  Research.  Google is your friend here just as much as it is in finding curriculum.

One of the best resources I've found for learning the ropes as a new home schooler, and even as a seasoned one, is Facebook.  In particular, a group called Crossing Over to Homeschooling.  It's meant for new home schoolers to find home school resources as well as answers to their questions.

A good resource for help in understanding your state's regulations is the Home School Legal Defense Association's (HSLDA) website.  In my dealings with our superintendent, I turned to HSLDA's articles several times.  Often just the mention of them is enough to keep a school district from giving you a hard time when they are trying to usurp their authority regarding the regulations.

Don't worry!  It sounds daunting, but if you familiarize yourself with your regulations and find resources to draw from in helping you understand and utilize those regulations, you will have no trouble navigating this journey called home schooling.  I wish you luck!

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