Settling for a lower cloud

One of the things that appeals to me about homeschooling is that you get to decide WHAT and HOW your child learns. Now, I know one of the complaints often leveled at homeschoolers is exactly that, that they can (purposely or not) end up educating their children in an incomplete manner, and whether or not that’s true (I mean, I think the majority of homeschoolers strive for—and achieve—a better education than one ends up getting in a public school), at least the parents are doing the selection.

Of course, I would never ever in a hundred thousand million YEARS elect to homeschool my kids, for all sorts of reasons, but the primary one being that I like them a whole lot better when I don’t have to spend every single minute of every single day with them. (Oh, how horrible! some people are now thinking. Whatever. I call this KNOWING MY LIMITATIONS and also BEING HONEST.) I, personally, am a better mother when my children get the majority of their book learnin’ elsewhere.

Besides, this frees me up to be dissatisfied with the public school system.

The way I see it, very few of us get to live lives where we’re always the ones who call the shots. I think public school is a good introduction to some of my very favorite life lessons, such as:
1) Life isn’t fair
2) Some people are mean
3) Hard work generally pays off (but not always—see #1)
4) It’s a good idea to respect your elders
5) Knowing how to follow rules is a survival skill.

This is how I justify sending my kids to public school when I know that in SOME ways they could get a better education either at home with me (assuming I didn’t kill and eat them, which is not an assumption I’m willing to make, anyway) or at a private school after I’ve sold a kidney to pay for their tuition.

And the fact that we’re supposed to get weekly newsletters from the teachers but never do, or the fact that I sent a note in that I was going to pick the kids up one day and Monkey turned his in and was still allowed to go hop on the bus, or the fact that the principal encourages everyone to use email but I’ve already had a teacher tell me that she’s happy to talk to parents but doesn’t have time to “muck around with that computer, ” are things I’m willing to deal with.

I’m even willing to deal with the fact that Monkey’s teacher insists that all children write their letters with little loops on the ends, to better ready them for learning cursive. In theory I agree, but in practice my son now WRITES LIKE A GIRL with his wildly loopy squiggle-printing and I’m just not certain that I believe she should get to legislate this. But it’s HER CLASSROOM and I am staying out of it.

Heck, I even stayed out of it when Monkey came home with his spelling list one week and one of his words was “jumpingjack.”

“Hey, buddy? I think that’s two words.”

“No it’s not. Teacher said it’s one.” Ooooookay. Maybe it’s an accepted variation? Sure, it’s not one with which I’m familiar. Or maybe it’s just, you know, WRONG, but whatever. I can deal with this. I let it go.

But yesterday he brought home his spelling list and one of his words was “cloudnine.” At which point I composed a friendly letter in my head. (Dear Teacher: STOP. IT. NOW. If you need me to send in a dictionary the next time I buy hand sanitizer for the classroom, I will gladly do so. Love, Mir.”)

Instead, I sent an email to a fellow mom. Her son had written down “cloud nine” but he’d also written down “grape vine” so now we were both confused as to what was going on.

And despite the fact that I like to sleep until the last possible moment and shepherd the kids through the morning and possibly even drive them to school in my pajamas (and then shower sometime around lunch, after I’ve worked all morning), this morning I got up early and got showered and dressed and announced that I would be taking the kids to school and going in to have a chat with Monkey’s teacher.

Because, really, what’s next? HAPPYENDING? GOODTIMES? The internet is a series of tubes? It was time to intervene.

I was actually really sort of nervous, because how do you tell a teacher you think she’s teaching something incorrectly without pissing her off? It’s her classroom and I want to respect that. I just don’t want my child learning incorrect spellings.

Monkey and I walked into the classroom and I made a big show of saying “Now, Monkey, I bet you just copied it down off the board wrong, so let’s check it and then fix it on your list and on your homework.”

And do you know what? He HAD copied it down wrong. The board said “cloud nine.”

We corrected his list and his homework and then I bid the teacher a good day and slunk out of the room.

But DUDE he did a week’s worth of homework with “jumpingjack” and it was never marked wrong, so I STAND BY MY INDIGNATION. Sort of.

Shut up.


  1. Beth

    Hey, it could have been right! And who does two-word spelling words? Duh!

  2. amy

    No matter how we end up educating our kids, whether we choose public instruction, private school or homeschooling, there are serious drawbacks to each for various reasons. Aggravagation is the name of the game, and I guess the way I have always thought about it with public vs. private vs. homeschool (I have done all three) is that you can be aggravated for free in the public school or you can be aggravated for a very high price in private. With homeschool, you can be aggravated all day long. I guess we just have to choose what is MORE aggravating? and then run the other way?! Not sure this is a good way to think about it though….

  3. amanda

    I think that you’re right to let a lot of these little things go, however, my parents never stepped in when I was taught incorrect things in my Algebra I class. This has followed me for years. I never established a good foundation in algebra, and in my freshman year of college, I actually couldn’t pass a basic skills test in algebra and had my grade reduced by one half a letter. (As in, if my average at the end of the semester was a 92, then it was reduced five points to an 87.) This caused my B in Calculus to become a C (It was a low B.) I am sure that if my parents had realized how big of an effect that this would eventually have, they might have tried talking to my teacher. It’s great that you’re keeping an eye on the situation! On a positive note, I am proud to be a product of the South Carolina public school system, and I have a good job and an advanced degree, so I turned out just fine!

  4. All Adither


  5. Delton

    We’re having issues at my son’s school this year and one of my wife’s suggestions was homeschooling (she used to be a teacher pre-kids). Your description above pretty much summed up what I was thinking about the kids being home all day every day. I think my exact words to her were “This could very well be the tipping point of the scales on our remaining grip on sanity.” Let ’em learn whatever, as long as they’re out of the house for a while each day. Plus your list of other things to be learned at school was great! Thanks for the reminder to just look for the humor of having your child learn something wrong.

  6. BugsMom

    You were right to go in to the class room and check it out. Despite whatever failings you feel you may have on a day to day basis (the ones ALL parents get) it sounds like you are a good, dedicated mom. But seriously, who does give two word spelling lists; that’s just weird. And cloud nine and jumpingjack ?? Really? Wow.

  7. Heather

    I’d say that you still give your kids many of the benefits of homeschooling. You are involved. What is homeschooling but a whole lot of parental involvement?

  8. Megan

    I still can’t tell how to get the teacher thing right – too much in their face? Not up there enough? Do they want to see me and know I care or do they groan every time they see yet another parent who is sure their Little Genius is being oh-so-slightly undervalued. And as I have three Children all of them in high school, I have a hell of a lot of teachers to wrangle. Grouff.

  9. Karen

    Maybe I am in a high-class rich school district, but aren’t there spelling books with the weekly words already nicely and professionally printed inside. Our teachers do not make up the weeks words and the book provides easy verification. While, my familiarity is certainly with the private schools, I am confident to say that our public school also have such books? Are they uncommon?

  10. Denise

    Michelle-belle who came home for school at the very end of 8th grade learned all of the following things by having me take control of her education:

    1) Life isn’t fair
    2) Some people are mean
    3) Hard work generally pays off (but not always—see #1)
    4) It’s a good idea to respect your elders
    5) Knowing how to follow rules is a survival skill.

    She never actually learned any of those things, except for number two which she actually learned as “Most people are mean and adults are too busy or uninterested in helping kids learn to handle meanness.”

    But, I have to say that I probably would not have liked her (or any of the other kids) as much if I had homeschooled them when they were young. I actually feel like pulling them out of school in middle school and keeping them home til 10th grade is awesome. After 10th grade, send them to dual enrollment at a local college.

    Goodtimes! Indeed!

  11. Ilona

    I just love your attitude to your kids! I really, really do. It’s clear that you love them to bits, and it’s just as clear that you don’t live in a rosyglow cloudnine fantasyworld about them, full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and devoid of reality. Love it. (Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed writing those three – six! – words. Heh.)

    This coming from a woman who homeschooled each of her three kids until they were 10 or so, and then allowed the youngest another year off school when she was 13. I loved it. Not everyone does. As other commenters have said, there are pros and cons to each method — and those pros and cons apply to the parent-teachers as much as to the children, the curriculum and paedagogy.

  12. Madame Queen

    My mom intervened when my third grade teacher told us that thunder and lightning were opposites. My mom had told me to “always respect the teacher” and “the teacher is always right” and she had a devil of a time convincing me that thunder and lightning are not, in fact, opposites. Just two associated words.

    By the by, she also had a devil of time convincing me that the name of my kindergarten teacher’s aid was actually Carla, not Collah, as my oh-so-southern teacher pronounced it.

    Yes, I am hardheaded. Why do you ask?

  13. Daisy

    My question on the spelling: Does the teacher have come choice in the selection, or is it a mandated district spelling program? Writing a pair of words as one has no excuse, however. That’s just wrong.
    I don’t like our district spelling program, so I teach it but I don’t count the scores too heavily in the kids’ grades. Then it’s a win-win, almost. Maybe.

  14. carrie

    Um, Mir? We teachers, sometimes we make mistakes. You know, it’s the being human thing. It happens. Sorry. None of us are going to take offense if an error is pointed out, as long as the tone isn’t accusatory. Big issues are a different thing, and you should definitely take a stand if, say, you find that the teacher is espousing genocide or holding up Britney as a parenting role model. But a misspelled spelling word? A quick phone call, email or visit to clarify should do the trick — as, indeed, it did. Now I’m off to do some jumingjacks.

  15. Juliness

    Please tell Monkey that when I encourage my exercise class to do jumping jacks, I often say it really quickly, running both words together like he did.

  16. Ei.

    Really, who does give phrases rather than words for a spelling list. No wonder the poor kid was confused.

  17. Bob

    in all of the references I could find, jumping jack was two words, never one. I relearned that it is more appropriately called side-straddle hop but I figure that if his teacher couldn’t even separate jumping jack, hyphenated AND separated words were way beyond her capability.

    not that you didn’t already look all of this up……..


    nit-picker extraordinare

  18. The Other Leanne

    Goodgolly, even if it was on the board as two words, WHY is cloud nine on the spelling list for a bunch of seven year olds?! “Oooh, I was on cloud nine when I made that soccer goal!” writes Monkey in his essay. What is this, 1942? I know you can’t micromanage the classroom, but it definitely raises some questions.

  19. Sandra Tayler

    This is an excellent summary of my own guilt and rationale about deciding not to home school. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one.

  20. Kate

    I remember switching schools when I was little and learning some crazy curly handwriting, called D’Nealian. I hated it because I got bad grades in handwriting as a result of coming from a school that went straight from printing to cursive.

    At least you didn’t get Monkey into trouble when you double checked the spelling. My sister had a sixth grade teacher that thought it would be fun to teach the kids basic physics, but did not understand the difference between weight and mass and reversed them in the homework. I was working as an engineer and spent hours reteaching my sister so that she could finish her homework, only to find that the teacher marked it all wrong and punished her for not paying attention.

  21. Melisa

    I was thinking the same thing as Heather. As long as we connect with and are involved with our children at home, they are getting the benefits of a public education (i.e.: not being eaten) AND home schooling all wrapped up in one. The public school system can’t teach them everything they need to know, but neither can we.

  22. Rachel May

    Um, Mir? *tap, tap on shoulder* I really love you and all, and it’s because I’m loving you that I’m telling you this. So please don’t take it the wrong way because that would make both of us un-pretty.

    I think it’s great that you are involved with Monkey’s education and wanted to double-check with his teacher. A little piece of advice from a teacher, kindly asked as a favor for Monkey and Chickadee’s teacher: Please don’t just walk into the room first thing in the morning (or even in the afternoon) and expect the teacher to be able to talk with you. She/He is likely mentally and physically working to get things ready for the day, telling kids what they need to do to get ready for the day, or to finish up whatever. You are more likely to get something accomplished (and be on her good side) if you email/call ahead and schedule a time, or just talk with her on the phone about it.

    I’m not trying to hijack your comments, but I thought I’d let you know. As a teacher, it is impossible for me to have a decent conversation with a parent when they just “show up”. I’m caught off-guard, don’t have my thoughts straight, flustered because I’m unprepared, and I’m usually irritated that they think they can just show up and have a conversation with me. In pretty much every other place of business in the country (except the ER), when you want to talk with someone, you make an appointment.

    Ok, sorry. *dismounts from soap box*

  23. Mir

    Rachel: Monkey’s teacher has expressly suggested that we drop in during the 25 minutes of free time in the morning if we have any concerns. But thanks for your comment; I agree that would be weird and annoying if I just decided to pop in.

  24. Sara

    Wait. So the internet isn’t a series of interconnected tubes?!?! Next you’ll be telling me that there are no people inside my television and radio and that there is no penquin inside my refigerator that turns the light off when the door closes. Sheesh. I need a drink.

  25. LadyBug Crossing

    I, too, would never homeschool my children. I want like them at the end of the day. I also firmly believe that you can get a decent education out of even the absolute worst school system. It just takes hard work – and support from home.

    As for the spelling words.. I had a 5th grade teacher who we affectionately called Gravy Train… Long story, but anyway… she never ever corrected any of my spelling on any papers except the spelling tests. It drove my mother bonkers! Mrs. Gravy Train had some stupid notion that it was going to harm our psyche if she corrected our spelling. She was looking for content… Mom told her to circle the words in blue instead of red… Didn’t work…

    That said — I can spell pretty well. My sweet sister, who did NOT have Mrs. Gravy Train, cannot spell for beans.

    I also believe that any parent has the right to pop into their child’s class any time they please… especially in elementary school. Parents should not be rude or intrusive or even be able to chat with the teacher, but to show up and sit quietly to watch, is just fine. I have parents pop in (unannounced) once in a while – I teach middle school handbells – and I’m more than happy to have them see what their little cherubs are like… More often than not, the kids are better behaved with a guest present. Sometimes I include the parent. I hand them a couple of bells and let them see what it is really like to play. They come away with a new appreciation for my so called “fluff” class.

  26. Aimee

    What? Jumpingjack could *totally* show up on the SATs. Actually (scary thought) maybe by the time Monkey’s old enough to take them, it will.

    I need liquor.

  27. Elizabeth


  28. MomCat

    Cloudnine would be a good name for a drink.

  29. Brigitte

    Whenever I reflect on my 4th-grade teacher (who made at least several errors I caught, but she never would admit she was wrong), or on schools that won’t teach evolution, or other similar things, I see the appeal of homeschooling.

    But, like you, I would go crazy spending all that time with my daughter (and she’s an only child, too, she’d have NO friends). Heck, I couldn’t wait to get her into preschool part time, luckily she luuurves it.

  30. Jen

    As a homeschooler, I’m happy to report that my children and I still like each other at the end of most days. I tailor their learning to the styles that work best for each of them (4 in all). We will probably finish 2 years of math in one year for the older 3 this year. They get plenty of chances to learn to follow rules and learn how sometimes life sucks on their sports teams. Our homeschool group participates in community service (

    You all seem like such involved parents and I think that’s great. I’ve just sat here reading for weeks feeling bad for all the crap that kids endure in the public school (waiting for testing, bullying, etc.) and just want you all to know that there is another way. (notice I did not say better).

  31. Jennifer Morgan

    My daughter’s 4th grade teacher beamed when a student used one of their new vocab/spelling words correctly at Open House: he said the students were supposed to listen “attentitively.” She then repeated this pronunciation several times. The word (attentively) was spelled right on the list, but somehow she has mashed it up with the pronunciation of “tentative” and taught all her students that way — my daughter, too. How do you address that? (I just ignored it — except for correcting Katie, of course.)

  32. RuthWells

    And how annoying is it when the newsletter from the teacher actually comes home, and contains basic grammatical or spelling errors, such as “your” for “you’re”?

    ….. Or is that just me?

  33. McSwain

    My Boy has come home with all sorts of teacher grammar mistakes in his spelling lists and sentences. Last year I had to say something to his teacher after he was marked wrong for correctly using a comma in a compound sentence. It was tough, because I’m a teacher in the same district. Sometimes it would be nice to just be a parent. At least he doesn’t go to my school! It would be tougher to be grammar police on someone I have to sit next to in the lunch room. Or is that lunchroom?

  34. Susan

    Last year, when I WAS selling a kidney to send Henry to private school, one of his spelling words was “nat.”

    It came home on a TYPED LIST from the teacher. And even he knew that it wasn’t a word, although he cheerfully reminded me that he has a cousin named Natalie who gets CALLED “Nat.” And then he wrote it with the capital N, which made us both happy.

    Because dude. NAT is NOT a word.

  35. Sheila

    Darn, I was secretly hoping for it to be wrong on the board so I could read what happened next. I could use a good “Mir Triumphs In The End” story right about now. Maybe I’ll get lucky and next week dinglehopper will be on the list. Dingle hopper? Dingelhopper?

  36. Niki

    I remember that stupid D’Nealian printing – my child had beautiful printing until she went to Kindergarten and learned that crap! This is the same child that came home with a (very obviously very old) worksheet on which the children were supposed to figure out what the items had in common. One of them was a record player. There was also a wheel and something else. The commonality was “things that go around.” Said child had never seen a record, nor a record player, and had no idea how it worked. We had a great conversation on how a record/record player works – and learned that she didn’t understand the concept of “you sound like a broken record” because the only broken record she could think of was an Olympic record!

    Homeschooling note – same child’s teacher thought it was a great idea to skip her a year ahead in math, but I wasn’t so sure, so I was allowed to homeschool her – a year’s worth of 6th grade math in one summer. I very nearly killed her, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. She did finish with a 92 average, so we must have done something right, but never again. I’m allowing dd #2 to skip 7th grade math this year, and if she misses something, we’ll fix it later!

  37. Robyn

    Oh I hear ya, RuthWells. What’s even worse is when you race your first grader to find the errors on the teacher’s notes. Oh what fun we have disrespecting authority in our house. No worries though. We only do it behind their backs. ;)

  38. Kendra

    Last year my 1st grader came home with CRAP as a spelling word. Really. No kidding. I laughed, emailed the teacher, and assumed it was a mistake. She (and the rest of the first grade team) were mortified and sent home a new list the next day. Spell check and 2 proofreaders (or proof-readers, or proof readers?!) didn’t catch it.

    We still laugh about that, but I’m thinking that there were some parents out there that didn’t find it so funny.

    The real word was CRAB.

    Don’t you just love spelling?

  39. Tiffany

    my kids are having to switch from the print they have learned in SC to D’Nealian here in TX and I just wanna say I HATE IT! the kids handwriting is complete CRAP now, my first graders handwriting is almost unreadable with all the tails on the letters. grr

  40. Kimberly

    Dude, I’m a teacher, and I stand by your indignation. And also your belief that homeschooling, while a noble idea, could lead to a rash of infanticide if embraced wholesale.

    I too like my kids better when I’m away from them for 7 hours a day. Summer? Is NOT my favourite season.

  41. RuthWells

    Oooh, Robyn, I like your style! ; )

  42. Rachel May

    How cool that Monkey’s teacher is available to you like that. It would drive me nuts… granted, elementary and secondary teachers are two different breeds. :)

  43. Burgh Baby's Mom

    I don’t even know how you can tell whether Monkey spells the words correct when he’s writing D’Nealian. I can’t read it and I certainly don’t understand the purpose of the whole thing.

  44. Cele

    When I was in school, right after the earth cooled, we used SRA to learn to read, and spell. When my daughter was learning to read and spell twenty years later, they used only phonetics. They did not correct misspelt words, if they could figure it out phonetically.

    What do you expect from a teacher that swore it couldn’t be an elephant hair bracelet, because elephants don’t have hair? I really considered asking said teacher what she did know about mammals.

  45. nan

    I, too, love the time my children and I spend apart while they are at school and I am in the studio. But during the summer holidays, I stop work and we do some serious un-schooling. I just love that too, but only because I know they will be back at school soon! I have never corrected a teacher, but I have told my kids “look, moms are supposed to check and correct your work too, because teachers have so many kids that they miss some stuff.” the teacher that my eldest son had last year was a dreadful speller, and missed many mistakes in his books. But boy, could she bring math to life for him!! She made him LOVE math, for the first time ever. And I know that she saw the corrections I made him do in his English books. This year, he has a different teacher, and I guess it will all balance out.

  46. Amy

    I am a teacher and I teach D’Nealian and I had NO IDEA there were such strong anti-hookie-letter sentiments out there! I do think it helps with the transition to cursive, though. The more traditional way has bigger differences between printed and cursive letters in some cases and for some kids it’s like learning a whole new letter. D’Nealian tries to eliminate that problem.

  47. Amy-Go

    I am so with you. I will homeschool my kids only if the Good Lord decides to wait until AFTER the tribulation to rapture us home. Other than Armageddon, the little rats can get out of my house for a few hours each day. And God Bless the teachers who are willing to spend those few hours with them!

  48. Veronica

    I think I will send my children to public school. For all the reasons you mentioned.

    Also I find homeschooled children to have poor social skills. Maybe that is just me though. I only know a few homeschooled kids.

  49. LuAnn

    I SO wish I could’ve channeled you a couple of years ago when my son’s teacher was sending home newsletters weekly, with so many spelling and grammatical errors it was like one of those moments when the train on the tv is heading for a bridge that is out and you just want to cover your eyes and say “NO! DON’T GO THERE!”.

    (Please don’t try to gramatically correct the above comment. You may hurt yourself.)

  50. Jenny

    My mom tells a story about when she moved from Atlanta to, well, we’ll just say Podunk, SC, and had a teacher pronounce “sesame” as “see-sam” — to make it worse, she had just asked my shy, eager-to-please mother to read a passage in the reader about “see-sam” seeds. Mom didn’t know what to do, but she read it and pronounced it correctly. The teacher told her that she didn’t know how the word was pronounced in those fancy big city schools, but it would be pronounced “see-sam” in HER classroom! To hear mom tell it, that was not a good year.

    Anyway, it sounds like your attitude regarding public school is right on — I’m a product of public school and I turned out to be an amiable, productive member of society (I think). Private school, around here anyway, can be a pretty toxic environment despite the manicured facade and flashy curriculum, as I have friends that will attest.

    As for me, I’m on cloudnine that the week’s half done.

  51. angie

    That is funny! Maybe the teacher recognizes the whole lack of space between words as a trait of Monkey’s handwriting? Or maybe she just doesn’t look at the homework? You never know. I’m glad you looked at the homework, though.

  52. StephLove

    My first-grader would LOVE that loopy handwriting. Everything he writes he wants to make “fancy” by adding little curlicues everywhere. Either that or he does “robot” handwriting, all straight lines and right angles, no curves in sight, preferably with some random machinery drawn around each word or letter.

    As someone who is eagerly looking forward to sending the younger one to preschool next year when she’s not quite two and a half (just five hours a week, but still) I’m pretty sure I will never be homeschooling.

    On a wholly unrelated note, said child thinks the leaves at the top of your blog are “cake.” She says so every time she’s on my lap as I enter the site.

  53. Vane

    hmmm … what’s cloud nine? what are jumping jacks? … I feel sad now, here I was thinking my Cambridge FCE meant that my english level was pretty good for a spanish speaking person … sniff … :(

    BTW, teachers not correcting mispelled words on my daughter’s private school drives me crazy too.

  54. Vane

    :S … misspelled … I’m even sadder now …

  55. carson

    Mir, I have to point out that I’ve seen the “homeschooling” word pop up in a couple of your posts today (Backwards reading am I, Yoda like.) I am compelled to warn you that you may be on a slippery slope. Every homeschooler I know (after eliminating the ones who envisioned homeschooling as their belly grew and the bellybutton popped) began their journey by talking about homeschooling and listing the reasons that it would ABSOLUTELY NEVER WORK.

    I do not tell you this to seduce you further down the primrose path to Parent Guided Education, but as a warning. Talking about homeschooling with adamant refusals to consider it seems to be a gateway habit. Next thing, you’ll be reading “The Well Trained Mind.” After that, there’s no turning back.

  56. TTB

    I don’t have any kids, but my bf and I are in that stage where we’re making marriage plans and imagining us starting a family and yada yada yada (I don’t want to make you nausiated). Plus, HE already has a son. And LET ME TELL you… if his son had the same issue you’re dealing with now, I would totally be ALL OVER the next school board meeting in a BIG BAD MAMA BEAR type of way.

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