I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts over the past few weeks in an attempt to make sense of some changes that are coming our way this fall. When I can’t get those thoughts to make sense, I know I need to come to the altar of my keyboard and let go of what’s in my head and heart and let it out from my fingertips.
It is here, in writing that I find some kind of order and articulation of what my heart longs to make clear. Not just for myself, but for my family, and for those who may be reading.
I’ve learned over the past few years that as an Enneagram 6, I have a strong urge to seek consensus (and sometimes approval) from a committee of people–often looking outside myself to the opinions and feedback of others. As I am learning and growing, I have realized this isn’t necessary. I can trust Claire and her instincts. I don’t need the approval or permission of anyone as long as my decision-making is in alignment with my own values and the well-being of my family. Even when it seems out of the blue. Even when a major change is happening only three weeks before school starts.
I say all of that to say, that I have often felt like when a major shift is happening I need to explain myself in detail or publicize all of the facts for others to hold them up and judge them for themselves and thus offer me their proverbial go ahead! Or talk to at least a dozen people (often more) so they can tell me I’m making the right decision. Old habits die hard.
I’m trying earnestly these days to hold a mirror up to myself and trust what the person staring back at me knows to be true instead of offering up my choices to everyone else and hoping they see and understand my intent and support. Maybe this doesn’t make much sense to anyone but me, but I needed to say it. The decision has been made but the reflection on it bears fleshing out.
Okay. Let me just jump in.
We are putting Thomas, Mae, and Kate in school this year.
I’ve been very transparent throughout the years about major changes in the life of our family, particularly those concerning our choices with schooling. I’ve shared a lot about our homeschooling journey: about my philosophy of education—-about the fun and mundane details of the W.A.C.K. (Wood Academy of Christian Kids) for the past seven years–about my obedience to follow this calling. And while that journey may not be ending entirely or permanently, it is certainly taking a pause for the academic year 2018-2019.
My Philosophy of Education:
My philosophy of education has always been and will continue to be that I want to help establish a lasting, life-long love of learning into each of my children. I want them to develop their own curiosity about the world around them with a spirit of inquiry and adventure. I want them to seek out experiences to cultivate the gifts and passions God has given them. I want them to embrace opportunities for a vast variety of experience as they each seek to discover what God has in store for their lives as they walk with him.
This has been our family path since Thomas, Mae, and Kate were born. It was our philosophy when they were in formal preschool programming, when Thomas participated in two years of public schooling, around our dining room table these past seven years, throughout all of our travels, adventures, sight-seeing, museum-hopping, library-visiting, state-park-adventuring, documentary-watching, nature-exploring, community-building, lecture-listening, class-taking, conversation-having, fun-loving homeschool years.
I don’t foresee that stopping as our path now seems to be taking another twist and turn along the way. If anything, I see it continuing to evolve on its own as Thomas, Mae, and Kate are growing–their world is also broadening. This year they will enjoy textbooks, classroom discussions, field trips, chapel services, interacting with people who may have differing or varied view points from their own, clubs, sports, lockers, and yearbooks. Opportunities are all around us if our eyes are open to see them and we are willing to embrace the experience.
A Timeline in Review:
In March of 2011, months before we left our comfortable life in Chattanooga, I felt what could only be the prompting of God to consider homeschooling for our family as we transitioned to Army life. I was resistant at first and like many experiences, went kicking and screaming–but I went.
I dove in head first and began this grand adventure. With no clue and a prayer, we began! With my hands on my hips, I bargained with God and agreed to ONE YEAR of homeschooling. ONE YEAR!
But then the next year came and I realized it wasn’t so bad. The kids were flourishing and I was beginning to find my stride as well. Ryan would soon deploy to Afghanistan and I felt the Lord urging me to continue on…
The year after that came, and after much prayer and thought and discussion, it just felt right to finish out our time in El Paso homeschooling. Every year we continued, I reasoned with myself that this might be our last year to do it–traditional schooling was always there enticing me. Every year I kept saying yes to what God had for the kids and what he had in store for me too!
In 2014, it was time to pull up stakes in Texas and head east to our Fort Gordon assignment in Augusta. I researched schools, grateful to be back in an area where the schools were great. We moved into the right neighborhood down the street from one of the county’s best elementary schools and continued praying about the path forward. Literally weeks before the school year began the stirring to keep homeschooling was still there and I distinctly remember Ryan’s words, “If public school isn’t a ‘heck yes,’ then maybe that’s your answer to keep going…” And so we did.
In fact, I’d say Augusta is where I really began to fall in love with homeschooling. We participated in co-ops, had a wide and fantastic network of area homeschool families, and we all grew and flourished in our new place.
The fall of 2015 brought about a wonderful opportunity for our family in that I was offered a (full-time pay and benefits on a part-time schedule) contract with East Georgia State College. The Lord was faithful to ordain just the right circumstances with a great sitter/tutor for the kids, a flexible work schedule for Ryan, and a rigorous co-op experience. That year, I fully realized what a partnership all of this education would be.
2016 began much the same way but we removed the co-op experience from our weekly rhythm and set out to simplify. Homeschooling was still the right fit. We had so much opportunity for learning outside the home within our community. There were frequent reminders to ourselves that we needed to actually be “at home” to get to the homeschooling. We adored our flexibility to travel and hit the road. Life felt full and we knew we were all right where we were supposed to be.
As that academic year drew to a close, so did our time in Augusta. We knew the 2017-2018 school year would be a crazy one with the first semester spent in South Carolina and the second in Louisiana. The choice to continue homeschooling was unequivocally a yes! Again, I wondered if this might be our last year.
This school year was also where I began to feel the greatest stirring and restlessness with homeschooling. Maybe it was brought on by seeing how much our kids were changing and growing up–the passage of young kids moving toward tween-dom and adolescence. Maybe it was brought on by sensing how their needs (academic and social) were changing. Maybe it was brought on by my own exhaustion of trying to establish a learning community for us in two states in twelve months. Maybe it was just God allowing me grace to know that one season was coming to a close and another beginning. Maybe it has been all of it.
Fort Polk, LA:
Our second semester of school in Louisiana has been a different one from all of our others. We hunkered down and quickly established our weekly rhythm of getting to our academic work, but as we have searched and researched and tried to find other outlets to round out our school experience we have been left wanting.
You see, the way we do school has been to spend a few hours each day doing “book work,” and then filling our days with P.E. class, golf lessons, music lessons, Trail Life and American Heritage Girls, recreation league sports like baseball, soccer, and gymnastics. We have “filled in the gaps” with library programming, meet ups with fellow homeschoolers, tons of time outside exploring, visiting local attractions, traveling, and more!
In our current season, the remoteness of our geographical location, a strange and demanding operational tempo for Ryan, limited enrichment opportunities, distance from family, and the growing needs of our kids has left us with a lot more idle time than we prefer during our school week.
I don’t mean to stay we are stuck here in Leesville with nothing to do, but in many ways the previous opportunities we have had are no longer available or easy to implement. That coupled with small and crowded living quarters has left us all feeling listless and a little apathetic–maybe even a little stagnant in our enthusiasm toward our school efforts. That includes me.
I will say that while my impressions of many things here in this area have not been initially favorable, but with time, exploration, and investment I’ve been able to focus on the good. I never want to be found guilty of taking someone else’s experience as gospel, so I set out to check things out for myself.
Before we even arrived here, I was gathering information about area schools. Internet searches, rumors, and urban legends didn’t give me a lot of confidence. Much of what I’ve read online via spouse groups hasn’t been especially positive. Last fall before we ever arrived, I spent half an hour on the phone with a principal of a local K-12 public school. And since January, while we have been here, I’ve kept an ear to the ground trying to discern what the local schools both public and private have to offer.
Of all of the places that the Lord could have directed us to return our kids to a traditional school setting, I would have never-ever-in-a-million-years guess that a tiny, rural, central Louisiana town would be the place.
Against the backdrop of my own restlessness and our kids’ growing and changing needs, in my own strength and flesh I have kept on with my own ideas of what school would look like for our family. Every year I would tell you I hold it loosely in my hands, and yet, every year I have our next year’s curriculum ordered and sorted no later than June–never really leaving room for God to move on our hearts.
This summer I have learned a costly but important lesson.
I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on homeschool curriculum and have spent dozens of hours pouring over it and mapping it all out for the fall. Call it self-reliance or pride or ignorance, but I have just had my head down ready to offer up my willingness to keep on homeschooling.
The adage of “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” couldn’t be more accurate in this situation.
Teachers Gonna Teach:
Since August of 1999 I have been an official teacher by trade. It seems that no matter what the circumstances, I find a way to use my calling and passion as a teacher in and out of the classroom.
I won’t belabor the point with a long list of my experiences, but I will say that teaching, to me, is more than a job–it is part of who I am and while I love teaching my own kids as a homeschool mom, I have also continually sought out professional teaching-adjacent opportunities as well.
While it’s true that the kids’ growing pains have been part of the impetus to look into traditional schooling, it’s also true that my own desire to work outside the home has also prompted this change.
Since arriving in Louisiana I have had multiple opportunities arise: McNeese State University (Fort Polk–on campus–didn’t pan out and online–pending) has been something I have had in my back pocket, but just this summer I learned about a part-time job with the Vernon Parish schools as an instructional coach. This really sounded like something right up my alley and in considering it, I knew that because of its hours being in the prime “homeschooling hours of the day,” it would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to pursue.
It was at this moment I just decided to get out of the duplex and drive downtown to the small, private Christian school a few people we know have attended. I know everyone else’s experience is unique and their own, but I felt compelled to go and check it out for myself. I didn’t make an appointment. I wasn’t dressed up to make a good impression. I just walked inside to scope out the building and get my own impression of the people who might be there in the middle of the week during the summer.
I spent over an hour there with the junior high/high school principal and in a separate meeting with the elementary school principal. They (along with their staffs) could not have been more friendly, assuring, and informative. As an educator and mom, I left there feeling very happy and at peace with moving forward in continuing a conversation with Ryan and the kids and the possibility of enrollment in the school. I also left there with two unofficial job offers; one each from both principals.
So what initially was just a quick “drive by” to assess the situation ended up being a seed planted about the timing of returning to a traditional school situation for Thomas, Mae, and Kate.
What a Whirlwind Few Weeks It Has Been:
The longer we have homeschooled the greater the chasm between what we do and what public schooled kids do has widened. I knew it would take special circumstances to ease the transition back to a traditional school setting.
And that is what I feel that this small, private school is for our family–a special school, a special opportunity, and special circumstances.
This is a chance for me to return to the classroom as a teacher–fueling a calling and passion I know God placed in my heart long ago. This is a chance for our kids to get a different schooling experience than the one the have had over the past seven years. The fact that we will all be in the same building and down the hall from each other feels like a loving embrace from the Lord. It feels like this gentle baby step for all of us. It feels like God is saying, “I have seen your situation. I have heard your cries. I have witnessed the struggles of these past few months. I have been waiting for just the right time to open this door for you to walk through.”
Y’all. Our kids are starting school with uniforms, backpacks, lunchboxes, hundreds of dollars worth of school supplies to donate to their classrooms, early wake-ups, long days, and one HUGE opportunity to embrace change again–shine brightly–learn new things–and see the evidence of God’s goodness in their lives.
I am starting school as a FOURTH GRADE TEACHER! With a classroom, an entire notebook of new curriculum, being part of a faculty again, and embracing my role as the leader of a class full of ten year olds! I, too, will have one HUGE opportunity to embrace change again–shine brightly–learn new things–and see the evidence of God’s goodness in my life.
As one of my dear friends reminded me, “It’s time to turn over the soil again so that the ground is fertile for new growth.” (-M.C.) And ain’t it the truth?
If there’s one thing I know to be true it is that change is constant. When we are willing to embrace it, good things can grow! We are all thrilled about this new change and can’t wait for school to start.
I know this is lengthy, and in reality, no one cares nearly as much about the school plans of the Wood family as I do. However, I have felt so supported by those around me during the active years of the Wood Academy of Christian Kids (W.A.C.K.), it just felt like the right thing to do in offering up a narrative about how and why we came to this decision.