Bill needed green chile and he never trusts me to cook New Mexican food since he is the native boy and I am from Iowa. We were waiting in the car at Cocina Azul with people in cars at either side of us. Windows rolled down and a spring breeze floating in the air. To our right was a father, mother and three rambunctious little grade school girls. They were wrestling in their car seats, screaming and playing—much to the dismay of their mother. Their dad got out of the car and chose to stand outside the restaurant by the door. The mother was trapped. Feeling sorry for her, I waved at the kids and made faces at them. Or as Bill would say, my usual way with an audience.
“Hard day?” I posed the question.
“They normally go to school at Holy Ghost, but I am working with them at home now.”
“It is tough, I retired after thirty years of teaching. I loved it, but I taught 7th thru 12th. Only saints teach elementary.”
“I went to St. Michael’s in Illinois. The nuns were strict. I have trouble keeping them on task.”
All I could think of was the years that people sometimes made fun of homeschool families. “Just send them to public or church schools, but why would you bother to homeschool?” Well, most folks now know how hard it can be, even with the help of television lessons, computers and the internet on phones even.
I always believed that only you knew your kids and if you wanted to homeschool for religious, economic, or just personal beliefs, it was your right. And, an exceedingly big job. Now homeschoolers are looked up to as demi-gods with pearls of wisdom dropping from their lips as their friends are asking for instant problem solving. “Can you tell me how you do “new/old” math?” “How do you get them started and make them sit down?” Homeschoolers, from a retired teacher, “Thank you.”
Teaching is more than sitting with kids and telling them what page to turn. The first year I taught in 1971, kids were smoking pot in the halls and not kicked out of school. Adults were smoking cigarettes in the teacher’s lounge. After being there at Hays Junior High, 7th, 8th and 9th grades for three weeks a father met me in the morning and chased me in the building because his daughter got a C on a test in English. A month later a father chased me around my desk trying to grab me. The conference was about his son making a pass at me in class. The Home Ec teacher slipped a cog after 20 years, and started writing on the blackboard and just continued on the wall. They took her away to Casa HaHa Hacienda and I took her class on my break. But with all the confusion of being a new incredibly young teacher, becoming engaged to marry and still loving my job, a friend’s daughter, 13, took an overdose and died. I had become attached to that child and I almost quit teaching when it happened. Then something extraordinary happened. Wilfred, who had failed school for two years and was 17 in with 15-year-olds, passed. For that, I came back.
A friend of our family returned to the States from overseas. Steph is a high school teacher, now stay-at home mom. Jeremy, her husband, is a Naval officer. They came back from a tour overseas with two small children. Haley is in kindergarten and Logan is three. This is Haley’s schedule: “Reading, with a program that reads to her and quiz questions or multiple choice that is also read to her. Spelling words, sounds to identify words. Math program where simple problems are disguised as games. Each of those programs are required 30 minutes a day. Her teacher has videos of 5 minutes instructional time with writing assignments and math. One special class a day with PE, art, music and library that last 10 to 20 minutes. Then there is Scholastic Learn-at Home website for shared reading and a site called Mystery Doug who does science.” What does Logan do for fun? Steph is a real teacher, and this is a tough schedule; to say nothing of cooking and cleaning for the Naval guy who works hard too.
When “that which I shall not name” is over and you joyfully send your kids back to school, remember you send them into school where people are dedicated to the craft. Parents can learn from this as well as students. To real teachers it is not a job. I never taught anyone anything in 30 years. I motivated them to learn. It is an avocation, a challenge, a love to empower those on a path to lifelong learning. Roaring Mouse, looking up “avocation.” Out.
From 1966 to 1971, Jo attended the University of New Mexico and Memphis State University, earning degrees in Communications, English, Journalism, Speech and Drama with history minors. At UNM, her hero was Tony Hillerman. She taught high school and middle school in city, country, and private schools for 30 years. Roaring Mouse is in its 25 th year. She can be reached at email@example.com