The Story of Joseph: the Boy Who Ran Away from School

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“Where were you on Monday night? You missed ensemble rehearsal,” I asked Joseph* as he walked in for his lesson on Thursday night. “Oh…” he looked flustered. “Um… I had homework. Lots of homework.”

I sat down to tune the guitar he handed me, puzzling over his response. I’ve known Joseph since he was seven years old, so at fourteen, I usually know when he’s not quite telling the truth. He had informed me last month that he completed the majority of his homework assignments in study hall, or during class, which meant that he rarely had homework to do after school. But I could see that he was embarrassed about something; I dropped the issue and turned to his music.

As the lesson was ending, I said, “Now do be sure to come to rehearsal this next Monday. We really need the entire group there all the time to have an effective practice.” Joseph nodded, and I handed him his music book, expecting him to pack his guitar up and leave.

He hesitated. “Hey…. I didn’t really have homework on Monday.” He was looking at the ground, red-faced behind his glasses. I stopped mentally preparing for the next student and focused on him. Something was wrong. “What happened?” I asked.

Joseph sighed. “I was in trouble. I left school early that day without telling anyone. I had an awful day. School has always seemed pointless, but Monday was the worst it’s ever been. Three different teachers yelled at me, the work they made us do was dumb, and I couldn’t stand being there any longer. So rather than go to my last class where I knew the teacher I hate the most would yell at me too, I just left the school and walked home. My friend saw me leave and he came with me.”

“Then what happened?”

“The school caught us leaving on security cameras, so they called my dad at work. He came home and found us playing video games. And everything kind of exploded from there.” Joseph looked up at me for the first time, defensively. “You would have left school too! I couldn’t take it. I hate it.”

I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I managed, “I’m guessing you were in trouble at home on Monday evening, which is why you couldn’t come to rehearsal.”

“Yeah.” Joseph lowered his gaze again. “And I was suspended for a long time.” “How long?” “A week.”

“A WEEK?” I gasped. “For leaving school one hour early?”

“Well, the principal told me that I probably would have been suspended for just a day. But when my dad brought me back to the school to apologize that afternoon when I’d left, I told the principal exactly what I thought about his school, and my teachers who don’t teach me anything useful, and the stupid homework, and the stupid classes. I just got it all off my chest. The principal was super mad at what I said and my attitude. That’s why he kicked me out for a week.”

I stared at Joseph. Surely this couldn’t be the same Joseph the principal had suspended. I saw a competent, attentive, intelligent student every week who absolutely loved music. He brought a sharp wit and humorous outlook on life to his lessons, yet I was often struck with his deep, sensitive way of thinking. He was always calm, but I knew he had strong views about education, creative writing, good music, and movies. He seemed well-balanced with spending time indoors playing video games with friends and skate-boarding outdoors. He was very dedicated to guitar, even recently growing out his right-hand nails, despite digs from his buddies, in order to get a better sound with his guitar tone. He and his dad were always playing guitar and drums together. I looked forward to his lessons every week.

“Anyway… I wanted to tell you what actually happened,” Joseph mumbled.

“Thank you.” I watched him put his guitar in its case, pondering what to say. “Joseph, while I do sympathize with your feelings about being treated like just another dumb kid at school, of course I can’t condone your actions or behavior with the authority you’re supposed to answer to there.”

“That’s okay,” Joseph grinned a little, but I could see that his eyes were sad. “I won’t run away again. They can keep me there. They just can’t make me like it.”

*Joseph’s real name has been changed.

 

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When I Say Goodbye for the Last Time

It always hurts when a guitar student quits.

No matter how much I prepare myself, knowing that eventually every single student will move on, there is still a sting when they have their final lesson.

Some students are so full of relief that they will be done with the music lessons which they never connected with that you can see the “thank goodness I’m free!” look in their eyes. These are the children whose parents were urging them to play guitar even though the child had no interest in it. No matter how hard a teacher tries to engage them, guitar is just not what they want to play.

Other students are downcast when they leave. Several students have been teary-eyed as they packed up their guitars for the last time. The reasons for ending their lessons with me are many: moving out of state, graduating high school, busy schedule forcing them to choose a new teacher at a different time, etc. Many will still continue to play guitar in some way. Yet they are still disappointed to be leaving.

Whether they are happy or sad to be finishing their time studying music with me, I feel regret. Not egoic regret, where I am only thinking about having one less paycheck per month, or one less student on my roster, but regret that I will no longer see their lovely faces every week; regret that I will not have the privilege of watching them grow; regret that I will no longer be part of their musical experiences.

What lessens the sting of parting is the hope that they have taken something away from their time with me that will benefit them in the future, even if I never see exactly what it might be or how what they learned will affect them. It may not even be music-related. It may be that they never pick up their guitar again. They might use what they learned to branch out and play another instrument, or a different genre of music. Or they might pick up their guitar in sixty years and fondly remember “When the Saints Go Marching In” or pick out the notes to “Silent Night” at Christmas time, surrounded by grandchildren.

At the beginning of this month one of my students had her last lesson. I cried. I think she did too, a little. She will continue to play guitar, so I look forward to hearing her again at some point, and I know that music will always be part of her life. She gave me a beautiful piece of art that she made based on her own beloved guitar. It is hanging on the wall in my home now as a remembrance of the love we share for music.

This week one of my students had his last lesson. He was quiet, as usual, among the rest of his louder classmates, so nobody else noticed any difference in him, but at the end he looked up at me and his expression tore at my heart. He did not want to leave and was not embarrassed to show it. We had to say goodbye anyway. He will be continuing to study guitar elsewhere, and I wished him the best with a smile as he departed even though on the inside I was sad.

Last night one of my students had his last lesson. As we talked, I could see how much he has grown; he has been my student for six years and is now old enough to drive. Our time together has been full of ups and downs, but through the moments of frustration we have found ways to come back to the music. Right before he left, he said, “You told me a while ago: ‘you can be a terrible guitar student, but you are a great person’. I appreciate that, and I’ll always remember it.” It surprised me that of all the things we discussed and studied for six years, that was what he chose to focus on most of all. Maybe that’s what he needed to learn, that no matter what his ability or lack of ability in something was, that it would not change his worth as a person.

When a student walks into their first guitar lesson I have to begin preparing myself for the time when they will walk out of their last. It’s not easy. But it’s beautiful to be part, even in a small of way, of these children’s lives and musical development. No matter how many students I end up teaching over the years, I hope to always see each child as an individual, special person, and look forward to seeing them become not just a skilled musician, but a wonderful person as they grow and change.

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The artwork that my student created

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Day in the Life: 1st Annual Not-Back-to-School Week!

This is our first “official” not-back-to-school year as a home-schooling family! Harmony is two years and two months old, and we have been planning on home-schooling for a long time.

Our family is a little out-of-the-ordinary because my husband and I work jobs at weird hours. He, Chris, is an employee at a local grocery store, where his work hours change every week and range from six in the morning until ten at night. I am a classical guitarist and classical guitar teacher for children, so I teach lessons Monday through Thursday from approximately four to eight o’clock, along with attending or performing other music events during the week. We’re very blessed to have income and be able to take turns caring for our daughter. My sister, Em, who lives with us and my mom who lives nearby also help with babysitting, usually once a week. Plus, since my mother home-schooled my sister and I all the way through high school, we know that they will be fully supportive of our decision to home-school Harmony!

Here is an example of one of our typical days home-schooling. Of course, she is two, so most of what we do is simply try to help her blossom as an individual, build her practical knowledge, gain physical skills, and just ENJOY being a child!

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 7:30 a.m.   After a restless early morning, we all finally get up somewhere around this time. Harmony still comes into bed with us around midnight or later (we co-slept until a few months ago), so it’s cozy to curl up together in the big bed. We eat breakfast and Harmony requests “dancing music”. After some trial and error, we find that she means several specific Youtube videos, which I have put into a playlist for her online because she likes to dance and listen to the songs.

8:10 a.m.   A morning romp on the bed where we play hide-and-seek with the pillows and blankets! Chris is off work today, so we will enjoy our time with him.

8:30 a.m.   Chris mows the lawn before it gets too hot, Harmony watches from the safety of the front door, and I jump at the chance to take a quick shower ; )

9:00 a.m.   Harmony and I play with scissors (safety scissors, ya’ll!) and paper, then paint a dollar store sun-catcher. We counted the triangles she accidentally cut from the paper too. At this point, she can count to ten, so we’ve been practicing numbers up to twenty. After getting paint on her fingers she decided that she wanted to play with water in the sink to wash her hands, which turned into rinsing our dirty dishes off.  Sounds good to me!
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10:30 a.m.   Harmony and daddy play an alphabet game with the iPad. Our approach to technology with her is based on minimal exposure, as we’d rather have her develop physical, social, and developmental skills aside from technology, but we do allow some interaction. Sometimes she will watch an episode or two of “My Little Pony” or “Magic Schoolbus” in the morning, and she has an alphabet video and a numbers video by Richard Scarry that she likes.
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The one thing we do not limit is listening to music! Almost all day long music of some kind is being played in our home, whether from Youtube, iTunes, the radio, the CD player, or live as Chris or I play an instrument. Sometimes Harmony even likes to listen to the soundtrack to Mary Poppins with our headphones (we make sure the volume is low). We also have a growing collection of musical instruments and have made sure that there are enough child-appropriate instruments for Harmony to play as well.

11:00 a.m.   I can tell that she is getting tired of the iPad, so we create our grocery list for the store.
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11:15 a.m.   Grocery shopping! Harmony enjoys this weekly trip because she gets a free cookie, which is a special treat : )  We are learning the names of all the items we purchase. Harmony often helps me cook, so she is getting better at knowing the more particular names of fruits and vegetables.

12:00 p.m.   Harmony plays with her ponies by herself or wanders around the house singing while I make lunch. She helps Chris with some chores, too. It’s been easier lately for her to play alone, which is good because for a long time she refused to do anything unless one of us was actively engaged with her. It’s good for her to develop some independence.
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12:30 p.m.   Lunchtime.

1:00 p.m.   Reading books is one of her favorite activities. We read some of the books from our collection and some that we rented from the library this week. She insists on eating a carrot while reading “Gregory the Terrible Eater”! This summer she always wanted to eat blueberries when we read “Blueberries for Sal”. We have fun stories and books about the alphabet, calendar, numbers, colors, and seasons. She sings or speaks many of the nursery rhymes along with me. We’re also learning how to hold up numbers on our fingers and play finger games.
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1:45 p.m.   Time for a nap! I will often get some writing done during her naptime, answer emails, read, do quiet chores around the house, or prepare dinner. Today Chris and I cleaned out the refrigerator (my most hated task), then I read a book for a bit before beginning to make dinner.

3:15 p.m.   Harmony wakes up to the sound of a storm. She sits with us and we talk about weather for a while. Then she alternates between helping me finish dinner or sitting next to Chris reading books to herself.
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4:00 p.m.   Chris and Harmony go into the den to play with her ponies. Her “My Little Pony” figurines are her most beloved toy! She plays with them constantly and carries them with her everywhere. Harmony keeps going to the window to see if it has stopped raining because she wants to play in the puddles!
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4:30 p.m.   I leave for work; on the other days I leave at 3:30. While I’m gone, Chris and Harmony watch the rain and lightning out the window, play with other toys, and eat dinner. Once the rain stops, he takes her outside to jump in the puddles for a while.
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6:45 p.m.   They come inside to get pajamas on, read more books, and sing songs. Her bedtime is between 8:00 and 8:30.

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As an example of how the rest of our week goes, here’s what we have done/will be doing:

Monday – Errands in the morning, chores, and our weekly much-anticipated trip to the library. Harmony loves to come with me and help with the shopping. She also enjoys assisting around the house with our chores. At the library we check out a stack of books and I write down the titles of ones she enjoys so that we can remember to rent them again later.

Tuesday – Usually I will attend a study all morning while Harmony plays in the nursery with other children, but since the study hasn’t started yet we went over to a friend’s house to play. Auntie Em took care of Harmony in the afternoon while I was teaching until Chris came home from work.

Thursday – This morning, we’re going to a field trip at a local fire station with other home-schooling families. The trip is intended for preschool and younger. Afterwards, since Chris is home today (his days off are always random) we’ll spend time with him, and he will do some “school” activities with Harmony in the afternoon after her nap while I’m teaching.

Friday – We will either do some activities in the morning or go play with a friend. Since I don’t teach on Friday, we have more available time. As Harmony gets older, we’re hoping to do something fun in the evening, like play music together as a family or go on a hike.

Saturday – Chris’s family is coming into town, and we’ll most likely do something with them that Harmony would enjoy, like the zoo, or the Japanese Festival happening at the botanical gardens, or the children’s science museum, etc.

So there we have it, folks! Our family’s unique schedule is working well for us. In the future, things might look different, as we either go for more of a formal home-schooling route or more of an unschooling method depending on Harmony’s personality and interests, but for now, it’s all good : )  Happy not-back-to-school week!

Linking up with the 6th Annual “Not” Back-to-School Blog Hop at iHomeschool!

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Changing Education, One Link at a Time

There have been too many interesting articles floating around the web lately for me to just post one at a time, so here are a bunch of them! Unschooling has been getting a lot of interest, lately, so you’ll see plenty of opinions relating to this growing form of education. Let me know your thoughts about anything and everything!

Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild

This Teen Wants to Abolish School as We Know It

Children Need Free Play, But Are “Unschoolers” Giving Them Too Much?

Open Letter to Adults From a Highly Creative Child

Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?

The Truth About Preschool

An Open Letter to My Students In Music School

Ten Things Every New Homeschooler Needs to Know

Self-Regulation: American Schools Are Failing Non-Conformist Kids

Nurturing Children: Why Early Learning Doesn’t Help

Ten Things I’d Change If I Could Have a Homeschool Do-Over

A Homeschool Curriculum for Preschool and Kindergarten

What to Do When Kids Find Their Passion

 

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The Stories of Josh and Sarah: To Quit or Not to Quit

Sarah* has been a student with me since she was seven. Her musicality is incredible, and she has blossomed into a marvelous young musician who loves to sing and write her own songs, as well as play classical guitar. She spent several years in my ensemble, too, leading the group as one of the best players. I always looked forward to teaching her each week, knowing that she would absorb everything and practice diligently.

This week, out of the blue, she quit lessons.

I should have seen it coming. Her priorities over the past year have been with sports, even though she never neglected playing guitar, and she is getting to the point where she would need to dedicate more time to music in order to continue advancing. Her reason for quitting was that she will be entering high school this fall and didn’t want to spread herself too thin. I respect that kind of decision (she’s always been a straight-A student), but at the same time am still a little disappointed that she chose an all-or-nothing approach.

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Josh* has been an up and down student ever since he began lessons with me almost six years ago. Sometimes making great leaps in musical advancement, sometimes dragging his feet (literally) to his lessons, I never know if we will have a good week or a bad week. He has just enough moments of brilliance to keep me hoping for the breakthrough of potential that I and other teachers saw in him. However, for the past year or two, we had bad weeks more often than not. As a seventeen year old who is heavily involved in sports and an academically-rigorous school, his priorities were obviously not with music, yet he still continued to play guitar, even when I wondered why he bothered to show up to lessons unprepared again and again.

Several weeks ago, right before a vacation break in our lesson schedule, I delivered the ultimatum: Josh had to decide whether he truly wanted to continue lessons, which meant that he would have to dedicate time to practicing and progressing, or decide that he wanted to discontinue lessons. I told him that I cannot teach someone who does not want to be taught or put any kind of effort into their playing. Honestly, I believed that he would quit. I met him at the studio tonight for what I thought was going to be his final lesson.

He surprised me.

His solo that we had been working on for several weeks was memorized and sounding better. He admitted that he had been reviewing old repertoire, sight-reading pieces, and playing pop tunes for fun. Even his demeanor was different; he sat up straighter, looking at me with determination in every muscle. After discussing several options, we made a detailed plan to prepare for a senior recital in the springtime, with solos and a duet or two, possibly in conjunction with any other graduating senior students as well.

By the end of the lesson, I was shaking my head in amazement. What happened to him was something that I could not have predicted.

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Josh and Sarah taught me a lesson that I keep learning over and over: you can never tell which students will connect with music and stick with it, and which will leave it before the teacher thinks they should. The student themselves is the one ultimately in control of what they choose to learn; the parents can push, and the teacher can urge, but each child chooses his or her own path in the end. Yet, thankfully, each student is affected in some kind of way by their interactions with their teachers and their experience with music, which can influence them in positive ways for the rest of their lives.

*Students names have been changed.

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For All Former Home-schoolers Out There!

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Please let me know in the comments why you chose your particular answer! I would love to hear from you.

education

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No, I Don’t Hate Public School

Lately I’ve had a few people delicately hint that they think I hate public schools.

If you haven’t already read this post I wrote several years ago, please do! And here are some more thoughts that I’ve had since writing it.

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There are very few things that would make you a “bad” parent.

Abusing your child makes you a bad parent.

Neglecting your child makes you a bad parent.

Allowing someone else to cause harm to your child without intervention makes you a bad parent.

Thankfully, I’ve only met one or two “bad” parents. The vast majority of parents I’ve known all fall on the good side!

But, the good side isn’t just black and white. There’s plenty of grey.

So… why are we still judging each other as if we think we’ve somehow got this “good” parenting thing figured out?

There are so many grey areas of raising children.

Whether your child watches a television show (or two, or three) and your neighbor doesn’t even own a t.v. set….

Whether your kid is allowed to stay up late when his friend has to be in bed by seven o’clock…

Whether your family chooses to go to a specific denomination of church while another friend goes to a different church…

Whether you don’t force your daughter to eat more than one bite of a food she doesn’t like, yet her friend is required to clean her plate at every meal….

Whether little Jimmy down the street delicately munches on organic carrots and raw milk cheese while your own kids snack on animal crackers…

… none of those things make you a bad parent.

Adding to that list:

Just because you enroll your children in a public school…

… that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Or a better parent than someone else.

Just because you believe that your child will be learn best in a private academy…

… that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Or a better parent than someone else.

Just because you want to home-school your children…

… that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Or a better parent than someone else.

As long as you are making all these decisions for the good of your entire family and the good of your individual child, then you aren’t a bad parent or a better parent than anyone else: you are a conscientious, loving parent. And if that’s what we’re all striving to be, then shouldn’t we be uplifting each other rather than judging? Especially when we are in the same community together!

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That being said, you WILL see my posts here focus on two things:

~ Arguing against educational practices that I personally believe are detrimental or questionable for a child’s learning/growing.

~ Presenting evidence and articles that strongly support alternative education and home-schooling.

Why?

Because this kind of attitude in schools frustrates me.

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And I believe this instead.

Personal Qualities Not Measured By Tests

I believe that many schools focus far too much on academic skills. Succeeding in school is becoming an achievement that rewards children who take tests well and learn the way the school wants them to learn. But, as any teacher or parent will tell you, that is not the way every child is designed.

I also believe that many schools do not provide the instruction, environment, teachers, mentors, or free time that children need for their own individual, personal development as capable human beings with specialized gifts, interests, and abilities. Intelligence is not measured only with exams, computers, books, and numbers!

Some children function well in a classroom, thriving on the structured assignments, smoothly mastering new concepts in math, history, social sciences, and writing, and bring home report cards with top grades.

Many do not.

If a child is struggling in whatever educational situation they are in currently, then a good parent will do whatever they can to help their son or daughter succeed. That might mean talking with the teacher, or hiring a tutor, or assessing a learning disability, or cutting back on extra-curricular activities, or addressing bullying, or encouraging your child to build friendships, or giving extra help with home-work, or setting up a counseling session, or even placing their child in a new school or bringing them home to home-school. As a teacher, I’ve known families who have done each of these things as they seek to help their child succeed!

Because the majority of children are in public schools or academically-focused private schools, much of what I write here has to do with exploring alternatives for those who do not fit into those categories.

But I know that alternative education is not all sunshine and roses either.

Every single educational option has its pros and cons.

In upcoming posts, I’ll be going over some sticky issues, like the dark side of home-schooling, Common Core, and what religion has to do with education. These posts are not going to be easy to write, but I want to address and explore what they mean, both for my own benefit and to urge others to think about these hard topics as well.

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To go back to the original topic, no, I don’t think that if you send your child to the local school down the road that you’re a bad parent. Just like I hope you won’t think I’m a bad parent for NOT sending my child to the local school. We’re doing what we believe is best for our children. And we can still be friends : )

I want to encourage everyone, no matter what parental or educational choices your family is making, to treat each other (and speak about each other!) with grace. What works for your own family may not work for another family. What works for one of your children may not work for one of your other children. What worked for you as a child may not work for your own child. Everyone is different, and we need to look at each other with grace.

As a final note, here is a book that portrays children who are in public school and children who are home-schooled getting along together and being great friends. Totally looking forward to reading this together when my daughter is older!

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