Maybe I am being a little dramatic with the title of this post?! As a certified teacher who has taught and counseled expatriates families, taught in the US public school system, and currently tutoring as a gig, I have found parents typically put more weight on where their kids go to school than any other parenting decision. And on top of an already heavy decision, it can be next level for families balancing long unpredictable hours of training or a career in medicine. Our guest blogger for today, Allison, a mom of three, has blazed the trail from homeschooling to private school and her post is full of helpful questions to ask as a family while you navigate your children’s education.
We were all dressed up in our professional clothes. The babysitter had come to entertain our toddler for a few hours. I had dreams of the future and possibility tinged with nervousness and sadness that came from entering into a new season swirling in my belly. We were off to an interview, but this time it wasn’t an interview for a job or for the next stage of training. This was a preschool interview.
We arrived at the nursery school and we were asked about ourselves, our child, and our hopes for his education all while sitting in tiny chairs intended for 3-year-olds. We were told why this school and the other schools we would interview with were the best option for our child. They shared with us everything from the daily schedule and details that made this school experience wonderful to how this choice would set our child up for success and a path to the Ivy League. After all, wasn’t that the dream that everyone had for their child? We were living in a city were education was the measure of success.
In our most sane and grounded moments, we knew that this was kind of ridiculous. We could joke with friends about how it was easier for our physician friends to get into medical school than it was to get our toddlers into preschool, and laugh about the awkwardness of all interviews taking place at tiny tables. At the same time the idea that the choices you make even in preschool could put you on the right path for the future was intoxicating and hard to resist. We were people who had chosen to build life around a career that took nearly a decade of education after college. Even more challenging for me was the idea that if there was a right path, then there must be a wrong path and I wasn’t sure I would know which was which.
Whether you are just considering what you will do when you have kids one day, or reevaluating the choices you have already made, choices about education can feel weighty.
What I can now tell you after 13 years into parenting, is that raising kids and educating them is made up of millions of decisions. While there are the ones that feel momentus, it is also made of millions of others both big and small.
Our experience hasn’t proven to be one straight path from nursery school to the Ivy League, but instead feels more like thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. You start full of hope and anticipation at the trailhead with a map, timeline hiking partners and a plan, but as you journey along, things change. You hit detours, injuries, fatigue, feel like you lost the way and then find it again. Your hiking partners change and you have to cross obstacles. Step after step you are making progress and achieving more than you could have imagined and suffering through more challenges than you could ever have anticipated.
From our first days of one small boy heading off to a nursery school in the city, we have marched on through training and job changes. Our family has grown, our budget has changed, the way we know and understand our children’s needs and skills has become more developed, we’ve encountered challenges and what works for us as a family is different. Our kids have been to Christian school, Montessori, public school and been homeschooled. There has been beauty and struggle in each stage. There will be beauty and struggle in your path to educate your kids too.
When first considering school options it is important to know what options are available and how the systems work in your area. Investigate the timeline and steps that go into getting into that school. Making schooling choices feels weighty but having to do in a hurry is even harder. That being said, there is always a way to work in and through the challenges if you find yourself needing to make decisions in a hurry.
Are there deadlines for when you need to be registered? Do you need to have testing done or interviews as part of the admissions process? How competitive is the school to get into? Do you have a local area school, or is your district one that gives you choices within your area? If you are considering homeschool, what are the regulations for your State?
Life as a doctor’s wife can be lonely and for kids it can feel unpredictable and hard. Our best school experiences we have felt like we part of a team that was working together to grow our children and help them learn. While I can be susceptible to feelings of insecurity, overall these have been the people I felt like I could be myself with. This hasn’t meant that we are in a community that is like minded in every way. Diversity in experience, goals and and backgrounds in one way or another has proven to make these communities rich.
We have found different ways to connect with other families and the staff at school in each school environment. This has been evenings out with the other parents in our child’s class, coffee dates with other moms, time spent on the playground after pick-up, playdates, homeschool field trips, homeschool groups, volunteering at school that was fun, or just getting to know and love the teachers and staff at our school.
This is a hard factor to evaluate before you have children in the school but is worth paying attention as you settle into school. If you always feel uncomfortable, if the things you value most don’t seem to be taken seriously, or if you just can’t seem to connect with others then it is something to take seriously.
What is it like when I am there? What does the school value? Do I value that too? Is there a sense of cooperation among parents and instructors? How do my kids act when they have been in this environment? Do I feel like I have to work hard to fit in and feel at home in this community?
I had underestimated the impact that transportation could make on the school experience but when transportation has been difficult it has made our life feel really difficult and stressful. Being married to a doctor means that you rarely have a husband who is able to do school drop-off on their way to work and so the transportation duty falls entirely to you. While in most cases transportation alone won’t make or break your situation, when it adds stress and challenges to each day it can start to weigh you down.
Does this school choice put me in stressful transportation conditions? Have I made this trip during the time when drop-off and pick-up take place? Do I have to squeeze on the city bus or subway with morning commuters? How difficult is it to get to my child if they are sick in the middle of the day? Does my child have to spend a long time on the bus each day? How easy is parking at the school or activity? What is this like when the weather is bad? Does this drop-off or pick-up make my other children miss naps each day so that I have tired cranky kids?
We have found that our budget has changed drastically through our years of training into practicing medicine. I have come to appreciate the power of a realistic understanding of what our budget will allow. There have been times that we prioritized spending more on education and so my husband needed to moonlight in order to subsidize our budget. This led to longer work hours, more time for me alone with kids, and less margin in our lives. I have had to learn to be thoughtful about when spending more is the right decision, and when we needed to make changes so that the extra hours of working weren’t necessary. I have also come to see that the cost of school is beyond the tuition price. It is also the cost of transportation to school, extras like field trips, uniforms, homeschool activities and school events. Added into this cost was the impact that being a part of a community that had the financial ability to spend on the things that I desired.
Can our budget support making this choice for schooling? What are the real costs including transportation, materials, and extras? If we say yes to spending in this area, what are we choosing to say no to? If we spend less on education, what will that allow us to put that money toward? Will being a part of this community make me desire to live beyond our means?
Support for Your Learner
Knowing the specific strengths, needs and challenges your child faces and having people to help you support your child is really important. This might mean looking at how the environment address food allergies, learning challenges, how much a child gets to move throughout the day and the expertise and training of those who will educate your child or support you as you educate them. When our kids have struggled we have first seen hints that things are wrong in their behavior or desire to participate in school. It has been through well trained professionals that we have started to understand our kids experience more and be better able to support them. Having thoughtful support has made the difference for our family when things get hard.
Does my child have specific needs that will need to be supported? What options for support are there if we find that my child has new challenges come to light? What will a typical day look like for my child? Will it engage them and help them love learning? Will that be too challenging or frustrating for them? Is there a good variety of ways that material is covered and ways that learning is measured?
Life as a Whole
The last factor that I consider is how does this choice fit into our family as a whole. It is the place where I try and balance out each of the other ways our choice will affect our family and also try to take into account the way school fits adds to our quality of life. We might be evaluating time together as a family that keeps us with all our kids at one school verses having kids at different schools that better meet their needs, or the flexibility of a homeschool schedule verses the need I have for a little time when my kids are with someone else because my husband is so busy. There isn’t a choice that doesn’t have a downside or a compromise built into it.
As you make this journey as a family, I am praying for you. May the Lord be near you and your children. May he give you friends and support when you need them most. Would His encouragement come when your path seems the most confused. And finally, may there be moments where you get a glimpse how remarkable this journey is that will leave you celebrating each of the decisions you made both big and small.