Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Idea of School

It's suddenly dawned on me that Felix will be three years old in February, and therefore old enough to attend 'Pre-Kindy' or a 3 year old program, which is usually one or two mornings a week. This realization also made me think about school even more than I already do, as his future education has been on my mind almost constantly since before he was even born.

I didn't have the best experience at school, particularly primary school. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I had trouble making friends, and it's something that I'm still not good at. While it used to upset me, now I have just realised that I will always be a bit socially awkward and I'm ok with that.

I find the inherent structure of school to not be all that great for actually making friends. You are lumped in with a group of children who happen to be the same age as you and live nearby; that could very well be the only thing you share in common. It's not that you aren't given opportunity to interact with the other kids, it's more the issue of whether they are actually the people you would like to interact with. While it's good to be able to interact with all kinds of people and find something to talk about, it's a bit tough being stuck with them day in and day out for around seven years. I usually got along better with the kids I met in after-school activities.

The other main issue I had at school was the complete lack of help I had with maths. I have really struggled with maths right from the beginning. I'm not stupid; I just needed it to be explained in a different way. Everyone learns differently; the three learning styles are kinesthetic, visual and auditory. A good teacher will ensure they present the same lesson three different ways to cater to each student. Unfortunately this certainly didn't happen in the classrooms I was in as a child.

What really angers me though is that every primary school teacher I had knew very well that I needed serious help with maths. I needed a program, separate lessons, a tutor, something. Instead of getting help, I got yelled at and told that I had 'put a wall up' and 'hated maths'. Neither of these comments were constructive or helpful, and instead of making me 'work harder' or whatever the teacher's intention was, they sent me in the opposite direction so that by the time I got to high school I had given up completely.

The incompetence of the teachers I had in primary school is astounding and is definitely something I worry about with my boys. Because of my experience, I intend to stay very involved with their schooling and my goal is to know at all times exactly what is going on in the classroom. Perhaps this is smothering or naive of me, but the fact is they are my children and I know them much better than any teacher ever will. I have their best interest as my top priority, whereas the teacher has at least twenty other children to worry about as well. Even if she is the most caring, dedicated teacher on the planet, she just won't be as concerned about my boys as I am. And that's fine, it's not her job to be their parent, but the teacher will be in charge of their care for about seven hours a day and directing their education for at least a year.

I often read homeschool blogs or look at homeschool curriculums. It's something that has sparked my curiosity and continues to present many advantages the more I learn about it. And more recently, it has become something I find myself seriously considering. I previously believed that homeschooling was akin to brainwashing and that the children would never learn to interact in society; having several homeschooling friends has shown me that this is not at all the case. Homeschooling would give me the advantage of tailoring lessons to suit the boys' interests, ensure each subject is covered adequately, completely cut out the problem of them having to complete 'busy work' or homework (meaning work completed outside regular lesson times, cutting into family or leisure time). It would mean their day would be more interesting as we would be able to go out every day and continue the lessons in 'the real world' (this is something that really appeals to me).

One of the biggest advantages for me is the benefit posed to Victor. Obviously he is quite far away from going to school, but I am really stuck on this issue. Homeschooling would mean we would have plenty of time to fit in his daily physiotherapy. It would reduce his contact with sick classmates: while obviously we can't protect him from every person out in public with a cold (or worse), my experience working in child care has taught me that it is impossible to have a class full of perfectly healthy children. Someone always has a runny nose, a cough, a cold. In other locations it's easy to remove ourselves if there is someone nearby with a contagious illness, but it's more difficult in the confined space of a classroom where he can't just walk out. While we can certainly request to be notified if there is a sick child at school so we can go pick him up, I can't see this being practical at all. I see him missing a lot of school.

The other problem I think of is what if Victor's teacher does not understand the importance of keeping him away from anyone who is sick? I've found it difficult enough to explain to people as it is. If Victor catches a respiratory illness from someone he could potentially be hospitalized. Is it worth the risk?

Victor would also need to take enzymes at school. My preference would be for the teacher to have these at her desk so he could take them in class before lunch rather than go to the nurse's office, and then for him to take them himself when he is older. But I'm not sure if the school would allow that; they might require him to go to the nurse's office every time he eats anything. Then there is the fact that they might forget to give him enzymes. One time won't harm him, but if they are routinely 'forgetting' then it will cause problems for him.

Of course, this is assuming that his treatment does not change in the next five years, but of course it will. There will be additional medications to take, additional therapies. Cystic fibrosis is always going to be there and will always be part of his life, but I don't want him to be ostracised for it.

On the other hand, I also feel that regular school will be good for the boys. It is normal for me for children to go to a traditional school. I don't want to keep them in a bubble, and while I would ensure they did outside activities with other children and provide plenty of opportunity for interaction, I am worried that it would become too easy for me to shelter them too much. I also worry that I lack the organization to effectively homeschool. I want the boys to be able to teach me things when they come home from school and to learn about other points of view, even the ones I don't agree with. Having them in regular school would enable me to go back to work (ideally teaching, mainly for the good work hours and the fact I will get holidays off with them).

I have not really made a decision and it's probably something I will think about for a long time. At the moment we have defaulted to the local public school. It's small, which I like; the test scores are good, the website seems promising (no spelling mistakes!). I'm sure that once I give them a chance and get over my inherent mistrust of leaving my children with non-family members we will love the school. The other thing is that it doesn't have to be one or the other; we can see how things go and review the situation later if we need to.

Does anyone have advice for me on this topic?

4 comments:

  1. Wow, you're really racking your brain over this. I can tell you a couple things. 1. My niece and nephew (both with C.F.) went to public school and didn't get any sicker then their sister who doesn't have it. I'm not sure how she worked the enzymes when they were little but when they were older she fought the to let the kids carry them. Her main point was that enzymes can not hurt a person who doesn't need them, and she won. As far as you being worried about the experience, crappy teachers, making friends, etc. Well your the only one who can decide that. I have a son (now 25) who has a very high I.Q. I thought about home schooling but there's no way I could have taught up to the level he needed, but in hindsight, the school did a crappy job too. If you send them to public school just do what you plan and make sure you stay on top the teachers. I've found that you need to fight for your kids all through school no matter what issue you might be worried about. All 3 of my kids went through public school and made it but I was in there frequently fighting for or defending their actions. Good luck to you.

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    1. Thanks so much Lisa, I think I've just thought about it so much and for too long that I can't think straight any more. As soon as I think of a benefit for homeschooling I think of a benefit for public school. At the moment we have chosen to send them to public school (Felix will start in 2014, but starts pre-kindy next year). I think the real issue is just my fear of letting my babies go away from me and entrusting a stranger to look after them, but I guess I'll have to get over that at some point!

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  2. Hi Lauren.

    I'm going to throw in my 2 cents (which will probably end up being a life story)

    I went to public primary school (actually 2 of them changed in year 4 due to our family moving house) and a public high school.

    Teaching/learning aside, I believe this was the best thing to do because the experience that a child gets going through schooling can not really be gained anywhere else. The friendships kids will build will last a life time, and such a wide range of things to try and experience, incursions, excursions etc.

    As for the medical side of CF and school, when i was in primary school i think the classroom teacher had my enzymes for the first year (prep) but from grade 1 onward i had a little pocket holder than holds about 12 capsules (just make sure it is filled each night/morning), as long as the principal team, and classroom teacher / year level teachers are informed about it all, there should be no issue.

    Most of the students in my grade (if not the whole year level) would know i had CF and i needed to take these capsules. Even when i got a gastro (feeding) tube put in at the end of year 1, not much really changed, we let the people who needed to know, know and showed the classroom teacher.. again we let my school friends know about this, the only really change was taking it a bit easier during sport / lunch time.

    Transitioning to high school was not much of a change, as a lot of my friends i had made at the 2 primary schools were going to the same high school, again we just needed to word up the correct staff members.

    During year 11 i developed diabetes, and needed a week in hospital and took me a little while (maybe another 2 weeks) to get back into the rhythm of school, and again let the people who needed to know, know and my friends know. I used to go down the the nurses' office/sick bay to take my insulin, simply because that was the easiest place to inject myself.

    Apart from that my schooling experience was no different to the other children.

    As for getting sick from the other kids.. yes kids are always sick hah! but it seemed that i didn't get as sick as others, due to having so many antibiotics being pumped through my system daily, along with yearly flu vaccinations etc.

    What you will need to think about (which was not really thought of back when i was at school) is other students that may have CF, you need to take consideration of cross infecting of CF bugs.

    As for what you were saying about lack of extra help in schools, worried about kids being left behind etc, in VIC (I'm not sure about in WA) there are soooooo many more extra helpers and educators other than the classroom teachers around in primary schools than there were back in the past, i work as an IT tech in several primaries and a high school (I actually work in one of the primary schools i went too hahah), and the amount of extra reading/writing/math etc helpers there are is astounding.


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    1. Hi Lachlan, thanks so much for your comment! It is a relief to know that someone with CF had a good school experience and especially good to hear that you didn't get sick that often.

      I wonder if the differences we experienced had anything to do with public vs private schools? I went to private school until year 10. As soon as I went to public school everything started getting better. One thing that stands out for me is that the private schools I went to seemed to have arbitrary rules and there were no exceptions for anything. Public school seemed a little more welcoming and relaxed. Of course there were still rules, but they actually made sense.

      I think if there was another child with CF in his class we would have to go to a different school because things seem to be quite strict in regards to keeping people with CF apart. But I'm hoping that won't happen!

      Thanks so much for explaining what it was like for you at school, I'm a little bit paranoid about the whole school thing right now as it is because neither one of the boys have been to day care or anything so next year will be the first time Felix is away from me (even if it is just for a morning a week). And of course being new to CF I still feel like I am fumbling along with not much clue what I'm doing!

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