Annual Pep Talk

By Neil Anderson, Head of School 

It is time for our beginning of year pep talk. I know you need it, so don’t resist. I refuse to begin until you take a deep breath, smile, and say out loud “I am not crazy for doing this.” Well, in fact, you are a bit crazy, but that’s what makes it good.

Now, a few reminders:

1. Be painfully patient. You must give things at least through the first quarter to feel like you have completely found a rhythm. It’s fine to talk through your struggles early with faculty and friends, just don’t gauge your ability to “do this” by what you are experiencing now. Be patient and wait. Your homeschool days will get significantly easier. I have spoken with several veteran families and the struggle is the same for them as they encounter the new territory that comes with students entering higher grades and getting reorganized for a new school year. Be painfully patient.

2. Be joyfully frustrated. Don’t get mad at me, I know this is easier said than done. We talked a lot last year about being an educational community marked by joy. This will not be accomplished if we let our frustrations rob our joy. I do believe there is a way to struggle and to chip away at problems without it being strenuous and joyless. In Pauline fashion, we will “consider it pure joy” when our homeschool days are absolutely killing us. We consider it joy because we are Christians which means that all of life is to be marked by hope and joy, even when life stinks. This is the glorious paradox of the Christian faith, that we can struggle with hope, laugh while we throw our hands in the air, and smile in the midst of sadness. We must refuse to forget that the kingdom of God is at hand. A mind set on the kingdom of this world will be absorbed in futility, but the mind set on the kingdom of God will find life and peace in all things.

It is very dangerous to say something funny while arguing with my wife, but sometimes it is just what is needed. It cuts the tension. It pulls us out of this tight box we have squeezed ourselves into and reminds us that minor things have become major things and it should not be so. So when you work out frustrations, please, wait to do so until you have sought perspective from the Lord. Wait for joy to be restored, and then lets figure some things out together.

3. Be an imperfect perfectionist. I do some homeschool days myself so I understand, you just want to get it right and sometimes you don’t feel like you can. Sometimes you need a little bit more information, sometimes there is a typo in the lesson plans, sometimes you forget where to find what you need, etc. So you get stuck or you have that unsatisfied feeling that you are there, ready to do things perfectly with your students, but you are unsure if you are doing it the way the teacher wants. This absorbs time and makes your schooling feel less than fluid, which in turn can make you feel like your student is not getting what he/she needs. What I mean by an imperfect perfectionist is that you should certainly strive to get it right, but also be willing to fall short without obsessing. This means that while you work at the most fluid and seamless homeschool day possible, be at peace with the days that are not so. Be at peace with not having it quite right yet. This is a basic principle for life. We want it right and want it right now.

I couldn’t sleep at night because our carpool line, with the increase in students, was taking too long and it was chaotic despite our time investment planning. We’re shaving more minutes off the line each day now and it is not chaotic anymore. The obsessing was futile. For homeschooling, this issue is connected to the unavoidable tensions between true learning and grades. Grades are necessary for objective measurement, but they are also a huge distraction in education because so often we obsess over getting it right at the expense of using our instincts to focus on true learning. Sometimes it’s more important to let go of your focus on doing exactly what is supposed to be done, take control, and focus on learning the objectives in front of you based on common sense, as you would if you were homeschooling on your own.

4. On long school days and heavy workload. We have a steady stream of feedback regarding workload and length of homeschool days. This feedback generally spans both ends of the spectrum and everything in between, though it is weighted at the beginning of the year towards “this is so much work.” We do not pretend to believe that we have the workload just perfect, but we are confident that the current load is good. We have told you the target times your students should be working at home, but there are just too many variables to expect the time limit to be normalized for everyone. The main encouragement I want to give you is not to despise long school days. Especially in upper school, the homework concept is grafted in to what we do so it is not unusual to be working in the evening at times. Embrace long days. Your attitude will make all the difference. I realize it can feel like your student might be burning out at times which we do want to be cautious about. But the endurance gained by students on the longer days will be most valuable for them in the future.

The Lord is doing a good work among us and as with any endeavor with humans beings, there will be strain. Let’s strain with joy, be gracious with each other, and model the lives we are calling our students to live. If this isn’t fun, we’re doing something wrong! We are praying that Jesus Christ will reign in your homes, bringing life, joy, and good fruit.

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing I am doing your will.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.