Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Love Skool! (says the ex homeschooler)

We are nearly at the end of our first year of mainstream(ish) school and miracles of miracles...we are not a collective heap of nervous stressed out exhaustion due to his education. First time ever!

I haven't had to struggle with the desire to throttle a teacher, or throw a Very Big Book at an administrator all year. A personal best.

Which is really odd considering the year we have had in the non academic sense. This year should have been a disaster on paper.

Almost a year ago my very seriously ill (mentally  and physically incapacitated) mother in law came to live with us. Almost immediately went into manic we were trying to poison her, I was a member of the Gestapo, poo flinging, the works.

Then, just as I was contemplating holding a pillow over her face as the one possible option to save us from a living hell, she slipped into a profound depression.

Followed by pneumonia. Xrays revealed a suspicious mass on her lung. And she died, the day before New Year.  At which point I discovered that despite the 18 years of being a thorn in my side and an extended period of fun things like kicking me in the crotch every time I got her out of bed.. I was more emotionally invested in her than I had believed myself to be. Not to mention the man I love being devastated by her death.

After which followed a "stereotypical with extra added knobs on"  Italian family fallout of massive proportions with a gesticulation infested, shouty,  blame game ending in mass estrangements. Plus Italian bureaucracy. In quadruplet. Rubber stamped 12 times. I've spent more time with lawyers in the last 4 months than I have in the last 4 decades.

I have been running on fumes for nearly 12 months, which is normally a recipe for me to see the worst in my son's education, because until this year it was a constant bone of contention at best and outright "head, bang, wall, bleed all over the floor" at worst.

By rights I should be peeling myself off the kitchen tiles looking at Son of Thor's upcoming end of year exams with fear and dread due to stress and distractions having taken their toll.

But it hasn't turned out that way.

He goes to InterHigh, an online British Independent school. Even though it has been a hard year for us as a family, because of how he accesses his education he has missed very few lessons. Whatever was going on we have been able to find a quiet place upstairs for him to go to school on the 'puter and then study and do homework, while World War 3 raged on downstairs. Thank god for centuries old Italian farmhouses, their thick walls and the power of headphones to cut out background noise. Because of the issues with grandma, her constant medical appointments with specialists miles away, and how it took two of us to get through the hours long morning routine of up, washed, in wheelchair, fed and medicated in the face of a ginormous amount of "shan't, won't, wallop"  on her part awful lot of days would have been missed at his old brick school due to the impossibility of getting The Sock Dropper and Son of Thor out of the front door anything like on time.

It's been about more than not letting things beyond our control interfere with his education though. It's been as much about his education actively helping us give him respite from the shit that life (and his grandmother, quite literally) was throwing. In large part that is down to the teachers making student engagement constant element of of their work. Because it's interesting and student centred he has found it easy this year to lose himself in his work. That is in direct contrast with the past,where he was being aided and abetted by academic tedium into being distracted by the less than fortunate circumstance that "couldn't give a bugger in the community" policies thrust upon us.

He has transitioned well into the British system. Not least I think because his teachers at this school don't hand out reams of busywork. His homework is about giving him the opportunity to think about the content of the lesson, and apply it to his own world. I had thought I had a rather incurious child. Not so much now where he will be studying the Amazon one morning, and be still banging on about his latest self directed discoveries three weeks later. (but if school could train him out of doing it at inopportune moments, like when I am trying to wrap a spitting cat in a towel so I can Frontline it, that would be a help)

Geography particularly came into it's own in this sense. He has really enjoyed being asked to explore our area to compare, contrast and relate it to what he has been learning and producing whiz bangy presentations to illustrate his findings. He loathed Geography at Italian state school. It's now his favourite subject. Science has also been a big hit due to the emphasis on the practical  as well as the theory. And I have forgiven him for the red food colouring on my kitchen ceiling. Almost.

I can't believe how much his English has come on. I will at some stage overcome my shock that he no longer regards poetry as a form of child torture and actually goes off looking for examples in order to inspire his own creations.   Bear in kind I am not talking about your typical home educated creative genius here. I have a bog standard child. If it's not Minecraft or football related he typically demonstrates the creative interest most often seen in your average lump of concrete. I think his English teacher may have magic powers ...or something.

Maths at the Italian school was the subject that first brought up an online British school as an option. I spent three weeks on mumsnet being helped by British State school teachers who were looking at scans of his textbooks, askance that 11-12 year olds were being shouted at for not being able to do work that is more normally done during the A level syllabus. By contrast, now he is really enjoying doing work that is pitched at a more age/stage appropriate level. I am happily wondering how I managed to produce a kid that, as it turns out, likes maths. I am enjoying being quizzed by him slightly less. He is getting a bit showy offy now he feel all adequate mathematically speaking and likes to torture me by asking me questions I can't answer because unlike his lucky self, I didn't get a strong grounding in the subject. Unbeknown to him I have been going through his downloaded lessons while he is in bed. It makes more sense to me the way it is being presented to him than it did when I was at school, so I intend to catch up,  plug my gaps and then shock him when he starts firing questions at me again next September. (evil cackle)

Overall he's doing really well. I would have settled for him just not struggling mightily and being miserable in a system that just wasn't a good fit for him. So doing well means my cup verily overflow-ith.

From my perspective being able to have a prompt, non prickly, friendly dialogue with teachers and admin has played a massive part in my unusually relaxed and optimistic state. No more churning stomach as you make an appointment for three weeks hence to discuss an blip or an issue or a misunderstanding over a piece of homework. It is ridiculous how something seemingly so small can make such a massive different. They are on his side. They don't treat me like an irritating non entity who has no right to have an opinion regarding his education. They want to help when things aren't so clear to him or me. They don't knee jerk into a defensive blame game just because a parent had the temerity to ask a question..they just sort out any minor issues in a pleasant and professional fashion. While I sit on the other end of the phone in a state of shock. Gaping like your average goldfish upon having been caught seriously unawares.

My control freak gene is overjoyed with the graphic representation of his attendance, grades, homework management. I feel I can stay on top of things. A diary and occasional reports at brick based school didn't have quite the same effect on me. One of the major benefits of the graphical representation is that by and large I can leave it up to him with me just poking my nose in to keep an eye. Even my disorganised "I forgot! (again)" child can cope pretty easily with a system set up to help him succeed rather than almost designed to instigate failure.

All in all, while I am knackered to my core due to how hard this year has been for non educational reasons, I am so bloody pleased I took a leap in the dark and took a punt on something that was scary by dint of being different from the normal mode of delivery. If anything the differences rather than being a small "con" have turned out to be a "pro" in their own right. I can't think of a single issue or niggle. Which given my (long) history of two way bitch slapping with schools and flapping around waggling a long list of complaints is something of a turn around.

Son of Thor is almost 13. He started school at 6. It has been a long time coming, but we have finally found an option that works for all of us in a way that neither Italian state school nor home education did.

So a big fat thank you to InterHigh staff .......and NobleGiraffe and all the other British state school teachers on the education forum at mumsnet, who told me about it, checked it out for me and supported me in making what felt like a really scary decision to pick an unknown quantity. It really helped having "normal" mainstream teachers working in the British State system peel back the fear factor and point out that "new scary" mode of delivery was a lot less of a concern than quality of education offered.

They were right. Quality of content and teaching does matter more, and as it turned out the "scary new" delivery has actually been a plus not the potential disadvantage I was afraid it would be. It has made a hell of a difference and now I can see my son being able to realise his hopes and ambitions because he will leave school having had an education that supports him in attaining those goals. Rather than being like it was in the bad old days, where it felt like his education was determined to set up roadblocks and elephant traps to make sure he never got to achieve his potential.

So a big fat hooray for InterHigh.

Ditto the lovely teachers who support, help and inform confused, pissed off and  upset parents at Mumsnet.

And a massive, spluttery raspberry at the Italian state System. Who should take a leaf out of InterHigh's and Mumsnet's teacher/posters' book and remember that the students are the whole point of a school, and not the "inconvenient necessity" they are perceived as in the Italian system.

I wasn't cut out to be a happy home educator. I wasn't cut out to be a happy mum at the school gate able to overlook a long list of issues in the name of just accepting "this is the way things are so suck it up and pretend it doesn't matter".

I was cut out for this though. And thankfully so was my son. We got there in the end. We found something that was a good fit for both of us. Halle-bloody-Lu-Yah!

Thank god for the internet. Mohammed couldn't go to the mountain, but html et al let the mountain come to Mohammed. So he gets the rural Italian childhood that we both want for him, without having to give up the good quality British education that suits him best and gives him  a fighting chance at having the future he wants.

Whatever that may turn out to be.

I felt awful, not being able to provide an education that worked for him. Like a real failure as a parent. I couldn't make brick school work for him, and I couldn't make home education work for me. 

How crap was I feeling as a parent ? Mucho crapo.

That weight having been lifted has no price. And as much of an about-face as it is for me of all people to say it, after a six year long whinge with much banging of head on desk in frustration....

I Love Skool.


  1. So good to hear from you!
    And even better that things turned out so well despite all this other unpleasant stuff happening! Yay for Son of Thor. :-)

  2. I'm so happy to hear that you found a good solution and that he's thriving! I'm sorry to hear about the rest of it though.



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