4 Weeks In: The Public School Update
When I was pregnant with Zeb I had several Wise Women approach me…you know the kind that just seem to have a spark of knowing something? Women from my mom’s church, my mom’s best friend on her death bed, strangers in the grocery store…they would tell me I was having a boy, they would say there was something this child was in this world to do, they would tell me that he was here to make a difference. And each time they would talk I’d have this image of a man, a leader, but without details of what that would mean or what he might be doing.
Earlier this year Zeb excitedly came to me with, “Mom, I finally know what I want to do when I grow up.” Because you know, this was something that had been weighing heavily on him. When I asked what that is, he replied: “I’m going to change the world.” Well then. When I asked what that might look like he told me he didn’t have that part figured out yet, but at least he knew what he was meant to do.
These past few weeks as I’ve watched him so quickly step into what feels like his whole self, and step out of what felt like a 4 year funk, I’m reminded of these things. I feel like he’s no longer at the foot of the mountain looking up at what he feels his role is and feeling overwhelmed. I feel like he’s on his way. And like Life is coming together to take him down the exact roads with the exact people and the exact experiences – fun or challenging – that he’ll need to show him the answer to that question, of how exactly he gets to take part in changing the world.
Today is the 1st day of Zeb’s 4th week of high school, and I’m being asked left, right, and center how things are going. And I have to say, they are going really well. Challenging at times. But perfect, too. There are so many big and little moments to share, so many things he’s encountered, or we’ve encountered. So many learning curves (again, his and ours). For those that are as curious as I always was, yes…I’m going to break it all down. Just know that this is hardly 2% of the amazing picture unfolding for this amazing kid of mine.
I think the first thing I’m surprised about is the morning routine. From infancy, this boy has not been a morning person. In the 2.5 years he went to school as a little kiddo, every single morning was hell on earth. Getting him up and ready resulted in a daily argument. So I was more than a little nervous of having to drag him out of bed every morning. We had talked about it over the summer, and he had been working to get into an early morning routine without much luck. I had told him quite adamantly that I won’t be having stressful mornings trying to wake a sleeping teen, so we got him using an alarm clock.
It hasn’t been an issue once. He is up and out of bed the moment his alarm rings at 5:55am. He jumps right into the shower before I even have a chance to say good morning (probably safer that way anyway), and he’s dressed, packed up, eating, and waiting to leave about 15 minutes before he needs to be. He also goes to bed by 8:30 every night, so that he’s asleep by 9:30. (He’s got to be one of the most self-disciplined people I know. Even when we try, he won’t budge on his sleep schedule.)
Of his 4 Honors classes, he’s kept only 3 so far. We dropped Algebra Honors after the first week. It wasn’t AT ALL like described, and he was stressing out. Add to that a condescending comment made on the part of the substitute teacher, and he was not at all confident in sticking it out.
He’s still not digging Algebra 1, and he got a 55% on his first test to prove it. But his second test was a 90%! This was SUCH a huge boost to his confidence after feeling so embarrassed and frustrated at first. We will likely still be working with a tutor (a former math teacher and unschooling dad! yay!), but I think most of what he needs is just a little extra hands-on time and some help with study, note-taking, and test-taking skills. And to not have his mom try to explain it. Because that’s a recipe for disaster. Overall though, we all agreed that as long as he passes Algebra, just so he doesn’t have to retake it, we don’t really care.
Why? Because Zeb is VERY clear on his strengths and what he’s wanting to do as a career, and math plays a very minuscule part in it, if any part at all. His goal has more to do with politics, or social change of some sort, so that’s what we’re helping him focus on and get from the classes he’s in.
He LOVES Debate for this reason! The class is very interactive, with lots of discussion and each person gets a chance to speak publicly at least once a week. There are improv exercises, and opportunities to share opinions on the topic of your choice, and they’ll be debate matches in his future. This is probably one of his favorite classes, because he sees the need for oratory skills in his future, and wants to hone them. He’s also in a class of mixed ages, freshman to seniors, and he enjoys the maturity level of the older students much more than what he deals with in other classes.
He’s bored in Art so far, mostly because there’s not a lot of room for artistic expression yet. (A fact he finds ironic.) He enjoys Geography, since it’s a lot of current affairs. He comes home talking about Isis and Middle Eastern tensions, and although it’s a little heavy on the patriotism/”We’re the greatest!” for his tastes, he’s still really enjoying the class (the tests, not so much).
He’s NOT a fan of Biology, but I AM a fan of his teacher. We went to speak with her because he wasn’t sure if he should stay in Honors, especially if Biology isn’t his area of focus. When she heard what his area of focus is, and his passion for environmentalism, she made the point that to make a difference in those arenas in politics, you have to be well-informed on the topics. This really spoke to Zeb, especially since she’s also passionate on non-GMO and sustainability. I mean, he’s not enjoying the boring parts they are currently working on, but he’s sticking it out. She was also really helpful in letting him known if he’s feeling stressed or overwhelmed that he can step away during class, or come to her with anything. I really like her.
English Honors is the other class we weren’t sure he’d enjoy and he actually really does. He came home the first day so excited because another student had made an ignorant, homophobic comment in class, and his teacher had such a swift response of zero-tolerance for bullying, or inequality in all forms. He said it was the best part of his first day. He’s liking the reading they do, and he feels like honing his writing skills is going to serve him when he is working to save the world from itself. We even had this amazing conversation about the use of poetry in social change by the likes of Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King Jr. Plus, his teacher likes comics. So there’s that.
The last thing he had was cross country/track, which we dropped last week. 2-3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, plus fundraising and competitions, a whole lot of condescension, and even social shaming is NOT his thing, nor ours. Instead he found a regular study hall, a Japanese Club, and is considering a volunteerism club, as well. This actually feels way more of a fit for him.
There have been some adjustments. Test-taking and note-taking are still a learning curve. He’s not thrilled with the maturity level of many of the students, but he’s branching out. He’s not thrilled with the fact he can’t wear a hat, but he’s learning to play the game to get what he wants from the experience. He’s not thrilled he had to get a smartphone (he’s kinda anti-cell phones, except maybe a dumb phone), but he went along with it for the classes that needed kids to have a device that would access the internet. And I kinda love that they are so pro-technology.
Mostly, the things I thought would bother him, don’t. The craziness of pep rallies or the lunchroom don’t phase him. Asking to go to the bathroom is a non-issue outside of homeschool discussions. He just doesn’t care like I did. Dealing with immature students is a pain, but he’s cool with ignoring them and has had no problem speaking his mind on issues that matter (thankfully only that one homophobic comment; overall this school really doesn’t have a lot of bullying or social stigma). Homework still sucks though. No getting around that one.
But he’s showing up, and fully. He comes home and gives us a full recount of every highlight (good or bad) of every class. He’s meeting friends and making weekend plans. He’s exposing himself to the resources he’s wanting for his goals, despite the fact that some compromising has to be made to do so. And he’s cool with that. I see it actually making him more confident and stable in his convictions, showing him what to fight for and when to spend his energy elsewhere, if that makes sense. (Acceptance has not been a strong point of his personality, which I equally love and worry about.)
From my end, I’m really happy for him. Mine and Justin’s high schools SUCKED compared to this one, and I’m glad I haven’t let our hangups become his. And maybe it’s because our perspectives have evolved so much, but we all are seeing and experiencing high school as the resource is should be, rather than the nightmare it can be. We’re taking what we want from it, like we try to do with all of life. And Zeb is stepping into that arena and wringing it for all its worth.
He’s also coming into himself more fully. The timing and the classes and the people all seem so perfectly aligned to give him the experiences he was hungry for. In just a few short weeks I see him growing in his opinions, standing taller, putting himself out there in bigger ways. I was terrified that he’d be terrified (or frustrated or any of my other preconceived notions of what his experience would be) and I’m humbled by such a ridiculous assumption as that. I projected my own nerves and my own experiences onto his, instead of standing back and allowing Life to guide him in his own way.
It’s been a beautiful experience. It feels, just…right.