Michele Schillinger is retiring after 25 years of homeschooling
On May 27, 2022, our youngest daughter Gina will graduate from the Marion, Iowa Homeschool Assistance Program. It’s a big day for her, but a far greater day for her mother.
This day marks the end of Michele Schillinger’s 25-year career as a home educator. Michele successfully home-educated our six children, almost all of them from Kindergarten through 12th grade. She is in the elite company of highly distinguished people. I’d like to take this moment to reflect on this incredible woman and her remarkable accomplishment.
Michele would never embark on a heated debate over whether homeschooling is the right option or not. She is as soft-spoken as they come. She is content with just being with her children, doing their daily lesson, and enjoying their relationship. Her humble, quiet attitude keeps her from promoting herself. So I will do it for her. I will raise a banner and draw attention to this remarkable woman and her accomplishments.
Many argue that schooling is a job for trained professionals, experts who know what a child needs to be successful. In their minds, no amateur, stay-at-home parent can match the intellect and training of a professional. I beg to differ.
An Effective Educator
Michele was not an education major. But that did not stop her from being an effective educator. In our homeschool, there was literally ‘no child left behind’. Michele cares way too much about our children’s future to let a child fall through the cracks. If one of them struggled with reading or math, she was patient, found help, and adapted the learning style accordingly. She may have gotten impatient a time or two, but she always loved them and sought the absolute best for them. This is why homeschooling is effective. It puts the responsibility of a child’s education squarely on the shoulders of the one who loves them the most, not on an overloaded professional.
Michele carefully hand-picked the curriculum. She had the kids reading early and often from great literary authors, Konigsberg, Dickens, DiCamillo, Orwell and Naylor to name a few. She taught them traditional math methods that require the student to think logically to derive the right answer, not just be close enough to feel good about themselves. This is particularly important since one of my sons is working for an engineering firm building apartments and skyscrapers. She used an unbiased science curriculum and took advantage of local school assistance programs that encouraged hands-on exploration of nature, where theories were tested with facts. She used unit studies that give children holistic learning in wide areas of study including nature, transportation, weather, horses, historical heroes, insects, sports, … or whatever struck their interest and fueled their love of learning.
The independent, confident dispositions of her children confirm that Michele effectively and adaptively taught according to the exact needs of each child, far more than standardized learning in a public or even private school setting ever could. Two of our children graduated from a four-year state university, one received her associates degree in dental technology and uses her skills at a local dentistry. One is a licensed massage therapist and self-taught website developer. One has her CNA and has provided tender care to elderly patients at a local nursing home since COVID days of 2020. The last is about to graduate from high school. That, I say, is a job well done.
A Distinguished Career
Some would say that by homeschooling, Michele sacrificed her career. In a day and age when people are encouraged to live out their dreams and to pursue their own occupations, the idea of staying home to educate a child is nearly unthinkable. There are days she definitely missed that thrill of being in the public workforce. But from my vantage point, I see a woman who has found fulfillment in this career she has chosen, and I see young adults who have flourished under her mentorship. At the precipice of year 25, the reward Michele receives from seeing her children succeed far exceeds any monetary or professional award in the corporate world.
Staying home is almost incomprehensible in today’s world where a person’s value is measured by title and recognition, and success is determined based on the number 0’s in one’s salary. Michele did not draw a salary, but she has profited in a much more profound way. She got to spend precious time every day with her children as they grew. She got to see every new word, watch every solved math problem, and read every book they were reading. Where many of us only dip our toes in the waters of our children’s growth, Michele swam in the ocean.
A Challenging Occupation
I would say Michele’s occupation was much more challenging and deserves higher praise than most other professions. Homeschooling is a daily, time-consuming chore. It takes preparation and planning, and discipline to carry out the plan. It demands flexibility. Michele had to work around band lessons, Spanish class at the school, Taekwondo practice, and other activities. Sometimes it was more like “carschooling” than homeschooling.
Michele had no ladder to climb, no promotions to seek, not even a yearly performance assessment to evaluate progress. She had to be content with my hapless verbal (and infrequent) praise. She did not have a boss or a timeclock in the background, making sure she’s doing the right things and making progress every day. She had to be self-motivated and keep to her schedule. She had to wait multiple years to see the results of her work, wondering with fear and trepidation year after year if the children are performing to their grade level. This is harder than it seems. Kudos to Michele for keeping pace and getting stuff done without someone looking over her shoulder all these years.
Homeschooling requires collaboration with a variety of personalities, including immature, uncooperative, and sometimes unmotivated youngsters. It takes coaxing, coercion, or other forms of manipulation to accomplish tasks. Somehow Michele managed to succeed and get the kids graduated. Michele used to say her B.A. Marketing degree from Iowa State University served her well all those days when she had to motivate and convince.
A Greater Accomplishment
As I near retirement, I am starting to reflect on the best parts of my career as an engineer. However, no one accomplishment holds a candle to those achieved by my wife. Over the course of my 35 years, I helped design widgets and win business to build new widgets. Michele’s accomplishments are on another level. She built young adults. Pretty much everything our children know and have accomplished is a direct result of her work. She taught them the fundamental concepts of reading, writing, and mathematics. She made them do their assignments, sound out difficult words, and apply themselves, all while providing loving support as only a mother can.
Each of our children reflects Michele’s unique blend of strong work ethic, quick learning, and unselfish compassion. They do not attend Ivy League schools, but they have found success in their own right. They are the kinds of citizens any president, governor, mayor, school superintendent would want. They give back to their communities, help other people, figure things out without being dependent on others, and seek justice for the oppressed and needy. They are witty, intelligent, humorous and good-natured. Was Michele’s homeschooling career fulfilling? The lives of her children testify an emphatic “Yes!” in all areas. What other reward can be as rich as that?
Michele, thank you for your years of service! Congratulations on a job well done!