Last year I started asking around about homeschooling – not because I was interested in homeschooling particularly, but because I needed to bone up on my teaching skills. I figured homeschooling sites would have good advice around helping your kids learn, especially once the curricula surpassed what I knew with ease… which was happening, even in the elementary school grades.
Of course we had a lot going on in our home, so it was understandable that the kids were slipping in their work – and we parents were slipping in helping them with their work. I let last year’s school term end with the silent promise to be a better parent when the new school year began, once we all had the chance to recover from Jay’s death. And now that I have only one child to focus on I have returned to the homeschooling websites for advice.
Stella had the good fortune of having excellent teachers K-3. Last year her teacher was comparatively mediocre, and Stella was astute enough to recognize that. She struggled socially – 4th-grade aged kids start separating into cliques and gender groups – and she began developing self-esteem issues around “not being good” at her studies, especially math. At the time part of me thought “well, that’s what it’s like to be in school – some teachers are better than others,” yet part of me also recognized that I had been lackadaisical in Stella’s learning.
Now that 5th grade has begun I can see how overwhelmed and unhappy My Girl is. I find myself wondering if it is really just because of one year of a mediocre teaching experience, or is it because the system around her isn’t tailored to Stella’s learning style – and as she ages the gap grows wider? Homeschooling is big on individualized learning – obviously something nearly impossible in a class of 30+ kids (I realize that after 5 years serving on the school board it seems almost heretical to say it, but it’s the trade-off made with large-scale learning). Some kids need less individualized attention than others – I wondered if Stella wasn’t on the side of needing more.
One way that secular homeschooling families determine the learning style of their kids is through the Myers-Briggs test. In fact, they use it to determine the teaching style of the parent as well. There are many online opportunities to take the Myers-Briggs test, even ones to determine the personality type of the child. The results were so spot-on it blew my mind. More importantly, it has helped me refocus on Stella’s learning dilemma, and strategize on how to help her.
Stella tested as ENFP – the personality type blogger Penelope Trunk asserts is the one most likely to be crushed in the standard classroom (I tested as INFJ, for the record). They struggle with focus and follow through, being more inclined towards big-picture ideas and interpersonal relationships. They are creative to the point that their fanciful imagination derails them from anything routine. What people think of them matters deeply. They tend to have greater test anxiety than most kids and become very emotional when criticized. They are artists and creative problem solvers – and often not interested in expressing what they know in only one way. They are motivated by meaning and relationships, not by grades.
My Girl’s brain freezes when I ask her the simplest math problem these days, not because she doesn’t know the answer but because her self-esteem is so entangled with doubt that she literally fails to think, like a deer caught in the headlights. She is trapped in a self-fulfilling downward spiral of the “I’m stupid”s. She wasn’t like this in the 3rd grade, though I can recollect some foreshadowing to what took shape last year and what has clearly has me worried this year – Stella’s feelings of self-loathing and impotence when it comes to learning. Wow, maybe she is being crushed in the classroom.
Of course, my responsibility is to help her out of this pit of despair and to re-establish her joy of learning – which every child is born with in spades. This trend can be reversed, and I must re-commit myself to Stella in every way. I’m not ready to make the leap into homeschooling, but it’s clear she needs something from me that I have to deliver – and if it’s an alternative to the classroom I’m willing to consider it. My Girl deserves to thrive.