Josh, my five-year-old precocious little boy with a blonde bowl cut, romped into the kitchen for breakfast on his first day of school. He was dressed in his favorite blue and green Lion King shirt with matching shorts. His blue eyes sparkled as we walked to school: all the way down the hall to the front parlor of our antebellum home where I had set up our classroom. My husband and I had decided the year before that since I was a certified teacher and since I was staying at home with Josh, his three-year-old brother, Caleb, and was expecting our third son, Noah, that homeschooling would be the perfect setup for our precious little cherub.
Josh was a typical child--maybe a little above average in behavior because his father and I were strict, but loving, disciplinarians. I assumed that I would have no problems teaching Josh, despite the fact that I was certified to teach high school and had no training in elementary education. I ordered the teaching curriculum from ABEKA after consulting several homeschooling mothers who highly recommended it. A great curriculum full of colorful and fun lessons, it outlined every lesson, even to the point of the teacher’s dialogue. I was as excited as Josh about beginning our school year.
Josh began the first few lessons eagerly, but soon grew bored and wanted to resume the “good ole days” of playing outside all day and watching Barney. I often caught him trying to catch glimpses of the singing purple dinosaur that blared for Caleb’s entertainment. Josh also coerced Caleb into sneaking him candy while he was working independently. I often called my husband at work to get him to play principal when Josh did not respond to my teaching efforts.
Josh excelled in reading and had no problem with phonics flashcards. “A says a, a, a,” he repeated. He was reading the little primers in no time. But the other subjects challenged him, especially math. He struggled to learn his numbers and often forgot the order in which they were to be written during drills. Trying to be patient, I stopped him and made him rewrite, showing him his mistake, much to his frustration and eventually to my own. No matter what I tried, he had a mental block where numbers were concerned. It was probably my own fault, however, because I actually hated math myself, and I am sure he perceived this.
Sitting in our classroom corner surrounded with alphabet and number posters, Josh and I reviewed the sixties: “60, 61, 62, 63,” Josh quipped, “64, 67.”
“No! It’s 64, 65, 66, 67,” I instructed. “Try again. Remember, the numbers always go in the same order as the twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. He’s got those . . . why do the sixties stump him?
“ . . . 64, 67,” he muttered.
We went through the drill several more times—finally he said the numbers correctly.
“Now, practice writing your numbers, 1-100, on the number chart,” I ordered.
After checking on Caleb and preparing sandwiches for lunch, I returned to the classroom to check Josh’s progress. Left-handed Josh was busily writing with his big navy pencil, the tip of his tongue touching the side of his lip, deep in concentration. Oversized numbers filled the red boxes of the writing pad: 62 63 64 67 68
Pregnant and tired, I lost my temper. Why can’t he get this? It is not that difficult! I grabbed a red Bic pen in my trembling right hand. Josh’s big blue eyes looked up at me innocently, his blonde cowlick sticking straight up, candy stains on his pouty pink lips. “No, Josh!” I shouted. “I’ve told you a hundred times that numbers fall in the same order! Why do you always mess up with your sixties?” Red Bic pen in hand, I cruelly carved a large crimson X from one corner of the paper to the next, my brown ponytail swishing in his face. Josh’s sweet face fell and tears pooled in his large sad eyes. He sat despondent in his small wooden desk, staring at the blatant rejection crossed in red.
Frustrated and needing a time out, I walked into the adjacent room with Josh still in sight. What kind of teacher am I? Even worse, what kind of mother am I? Guilt washed over me as I stood looking at the epitome of innocence. He really was trying his hardest to please me, and I had failed him. I forced myself to remember that first and foremost, he was my sweet little boy, and second, that he was my student. I would have never treated another student in that manner. Just because he was mine did not give me the right to treat him with disrespect and impatience.
When Josh was in first grade, he began to show the overt signs of Attention Deficit Disorder and was eventually diagnosed with the condition. Josh, now sixteen, jokes that he still bears emotional scars from that day; he remembers it well, and so do I. That event opened my eyes to the impact teachers can have on their students. Back in the classroom, I now make every effort to treat all students as special, giving them the respect they deserve. Consequently, because I treat students with respect, they return that respect to me, resulting in very few discipline problems. Although I am sorry that I hurt my child, I appreciate the valuable insight I gained. Josh and I both agree, however, that we never want to try homeschooling again.