Tales of a First Grade Homeschooler
By Kristen Hand, CPA
Kristen Hand, CPA, BRC audit manager, wife, mother… teacher? Like most parents, the added responsibility of teaching my child has been the biggest challenge of the hot dumpster fire we call 2020. As the summer progressed and the uncertainty about the upcoming school year only grew, my husband and I were faced with difficult decisions concerning what we were going to do for my six-year-old’s first grade year. Specific circumstances surrounding my daughter’s personality and kindergarten year led to several conversations with her kindergarten teachers and my mother-in-law, who has been an elementary school educator for over twenty years. These conversations unanimously favored unenrolling her from the county and pursuing “traditional homeschooling” to ensure consistency and stability in her year.
Having a kindergarten student who can’t yet read beyond the most basic sight words, and is computer illiterate, seemed to triple the challenges of virtual learning. I foolishly thought by taking control of the schedule, curriculum, and environment, I could minimize the stress I experienced this past spring. The first task I set for myself was the most fun – converting her playroom into a dedicated classroom. The fun ended there. There are hundreds of curriculum options devoted to various teaching styles, beliefs, and goals. Unfortunately, none were developed with the intention of being a bridge year. None of them seemed to align with the standards set by the state (which are extensive and exhausting to read). I pieced together what I could and have been filling in the gaps as we go along. I have spent hours browsing teacherspayteachers.com (an amazing site with thousands of resources from teachers) looking for the best resources to fill in those gaps. I lesson plan, change those plans, and change them again as I discover my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses, and read the state standards. The cover of my lesson planner says, “All it takes is all you’ve got,” and it couldn’t be more true.
My days have changed considerably from last year. I’m not dressing nicely, I’m not working in the office and socializing with other adults, nor am I able to relax after work. Instead, I live in yoga pants and t-shirts, argue extensively with a six-year-old diva, and when I’m not working, I’m teaching or lesson planning. Becoming my daughter’s teacher has allowed me to witness the true breadth of her potential – this is simultaneously the best and most frustrating aspect. Knowing what she’s capable of, the days she simply doesn’t want to try are infuriating. I find myself reminding her that the words she is reading aren’t stamped on my forehead, telling her to slow down and check her work, and trying to comprehend why she seemed to understand the lesson on one side of the page, but not the back side makes me want to bang my head against the desk. She also gets frustrated with herself when she doesn’t grasp new material immediately. For example, we have been working on verb tenses for the past three weeks and one day she got really upset because she didn’t know or kept getting it wrong. I had to remind her that I wasn’t asking her to do it alone, I was working with her because it is a tricky subject and I hear adults getting it wrong fairly often. However, I feel immense pride in witnessing her everyday growth, and find joy in celebrating the little milestones or when she grasps something she’s struggled with.
She’s not the only one who has been learning though… here are some things that the last few months have taught me:
- Teachers are saints, the unsung heroes of our communities; not just because they deal with our kids every day, but …
- The English language is RIDICULOUS! Want proof? Sound out that word, “r-ih-d-ih-c-uh, u? – l – ow, u, ew, oh, eh, uh? – s”
- I’m an educated person (I have a Master’s degree in Accounting), yet I have had to research common core double digit addition. I’m calling shenanigans – what’s wrong with the old way?
- A work-life balance is hard under normal circumstances, and almost impossible in a COVID environment. I’ve had to delegate more, not be afraid to ask for help, and admit when I’m overwhelmed.
How I manage to homeschool while maintaining a career is no easy task. I wake up early and get a couple of hours of work done before we start homeschooling. I then spend 8am – 12pm in the classroom, wearing my teacher hat. The remainder of the afternoon is spent in my home office working while my daughter either entertains herself, or is with my 16-year-old neighbor, who I pay to ensure I can have two uninterrupted hours of work. Luckily, our schedule is flexible, so if I have a meeting, I can adjust our class schedule. For days I absolutely have to work out in the field, my husband steps in for a field trip day (he has it so easy). Busy season will involve earlier mornings, later evenings, and working all weekend, but I’ve always viewed the sacrifices I make during the first few months of the year as a deposit for the flexibility that I am afforded the remainder of the year. I also have the ability to adjust the instructional days– teacher workdays now happen to align perfectly with the days leading up to syndicator deadlines. I have also moved Christmas break to the first week of December for our annual family trip (I’m swimming with a sea lion colony instead of sharks this year).
There are days I cry, bang my head against the desk, wonder what I’m doing. There are days I have asked my kid why she hates me and what I am doing wrong. There are days that I feel like I’m failing at work and at home. Fortunately, I have surrounded myself with a wonderful firm that has supported my decision to homeschool and partners who have told me I have my priorities right and relate to me through their own experiences. I have clients who have been nothing but understanding. I have a husband who has taken on extra responsibilities at home to lighten my load. Parenting involves pushing yourself to and past your breaking point in pursuit of doing what’s best for your child. It’s easy to drown in the stress and the now, to forget the why. I don’t claim to have it figured out. All you can do is try to surround yourself with the best group of people possible, because it most certainly takes a village.