I was not the new kid on the block. A seasoned homeschool mother and teacher, I had heard of Classical Conversations and had been intrigued. Having already purchased my own private library worth of books and classical curriculum, I was drawn to CC’s comprehensive experience and resources. But I tucked all that in my back pocket because there were no Classical Conversations programs near me.
My family grew along with my skills as a classical educator. And my life expanded too. Buffeted by an economic recession, my husband was convicted of the need to make a fundamental shift in our lifestyle. Twelve years ago, we took a financial blood bath on our suburban home’s sale and bought the farm, literally.
Still homeschooling, I was also a wife and mother and a private tutor to my children. I was, for the first time in my life, living twenty miles out of town. We were repairing a 100-year-old farmhouse, wrangling chickens, re-roofing barns, and taking on all sorts of needs and projects that were essential, like plumbing. Yes, we were living the dream, but we were in disorder.
When the children were elementary school age and younger, disorder was not an unknown companion. Its effects, however, were less impactful.
After all, who really cares if the kids tumble out of bed and put on one cowboy boot and one sandal, each on the wrong foot? I was reasonably confident the temporary chaos of mismatched footwear would sort itself out over time.
I was less confident about the disorder pressing on my high school students. While we were making fundamental lifestyle shifts, three teens navigated their secondary school mid and final years. My two eldest teenagers “made it.” Homeschool and high school requirements were met. They enrolled in further education, and I patted them on the back and released them to their future. But they both still lived in our home.
Then my husband lost his job. Next, he got frighteningly sick. Eight of us were home more often than we were gone—my two eldest pursued distance learning and classes at the local community college. We were without income, surviving on savings, and trusting the Lord heard our prayers for deliverance. To be honest, our household was upside down in more ways than one.
I do not think it matters how seasoned or experienced you are. Extreme circumstances reveal what works for you and what does not. The various classical curriculum I had carefully pieced together to meet our homeschool needs was too disjointed and required too much of my effort. Our homeschool was vulnerable. Options were not available. Well, okay, it was true we could enroll our children in the village school. Believe me, it was a sincere consideration.
But I loved homeschooling.
I adored being present with my children day in and day out. Realistically though, we were not just dealing with the issue of homeschool. We were dealing with what we discovered would be chronic illness for my husband, treatments, and rehabilitating him back to work. It was not off the table either to renew my career as an education administrator and adjunct faculty member for a regional university. Cover letters, resumes, and employment applications were always in process.
Some good news in this topsy-turvy season was our home was plumbed! Work like fences being erected and solar panels being installed was completed. My husband took on vast projects to continually improve our century-plus home and property.
Having constructive work was a lifeline for him.
It was a distraction to our homeschool. Who would rather review flashcards when you could join dad in pouring concrete?
Which of you would want to complete a lab report or make an entry in your poetry journal when you could go get hay (and a McDonalds’ milkshake) with your father? Quietly I continued to test the idea if we could even keep educating at home. It seemed touch and go.
Frankly, with everything else going on and even constantly surrounded by (my own) people, I was often isolated and continuously weary going it on my own. Thankfully, my husband had returned to work, and we set about repairing the financial ruins. This relieved the stress of no income and minimized the multiple interruptions that occurred with dad home all day. But my isolation and weariness left me needing a homeschool reboot.
Enter a mindless scroll through my Facebook feed. With barely one eye on the screen, I swiped up and lost my breath. A Classical Conversations program was starting just half an hour away from my home. Honestly, in that split second, I made my decision. I would enroll my children.
A few weeks later, I attended my first Classical Conversations Information Meeting.
Sitting with other moms, I learned about CC’s classical Christian curriculum centered in the local community. My relief was palpable. I had hope and a path for the future of my homeschool.
But changes are not always easy. Obviously, a significant obstacle for our family was money. I could not fathom how I would swing tuition for four students. I prepared to walk away. Then this short phrase kept me in my seat. “I am looking for more Directors for our new CC community, and our Directors are paid.” A line from an Emily Dickinson poem fluttered in my heart- “Hope” is the thing with feathers-. An idea took wing; I could Direct.
I explored the idea in depth, as much as time would allow. Our first day of the academic year was rushing in. I researched the tuition costs, how they compared to what I was already spending on our homeschool. I investigated what curriculum I would need to purchase. A discussion with a tax professional offered me insight into what it would mean to be an Independent Licensee. I talked to other CC Directors to try and discern if the cost to benefit ratio was reasonable.
Because let us be brutally transparent. I knew I was already on “thin ice” personally with little to no reserve, and our bank account was similarly spare. There was a voice of caution persisting as I dug further into the opportunity. Could I trust that Classical Conversations would not exploit my time and expertise? I hold a MA in education administration and had a solid career reputation. Could I reconcile what from the outside looking in might appear to be an inequitable arrangement? Would I be able to adapt my expectations for how much I might earn compared to what I could make with my degree and experience? Was I willing to be compensated modest part-time income for modest part-time work?
Nine years later, having been a CC Challenge Director since the fall of 2012, I can truthfully say Classical Conversations has never exploited me. Equally important is my conviction that although some would say that as a licensee with CC, I’ve made next to nothing (referring to my income), Classical Conversations has consistently communicated my responsibilities and rewards throughout my experience Directing.
I do part-time work for part-time pay. That seems reasonable to me. Classical Conversations has never required more of me than I was willing to give. Candidly, if I ever feel any pressure at all from CC regarding my licensing agreement and business relationship, it has been healthy! The pressure produced personal and professional growth.
I consider it my responsibility to understand the agreements I enter. I read the licensing agreement I sign every year when I renew my contract. I do the math that reveals what my income and tax liability are likely to be.
And I pay my kids’ tuition—every year.
There is enough.
Sometimes there is extra.
I would say there is more than enough.
So, I buy excellent books. We enjoy subscription services like Audible and Grammarly. My husband and I can take a night away from home a couple of nights a month. He regularly suggests his favorite hamburger joint or Chinese restaurant! I have funded some continuing education classes for myself and occasionally treat myself to a manicure. One year I squirreled away some income and rented a fabulous Airbnb with my siblings to surprise my parents for an unexpected 50th Wedding Anniversary family reunion. And this is perhaps my favorite. When there is extra, I buy flower seeds, tubers, and roses to satisfy my gardening dreams, well—for that season!
The opportunity to Direct came at the right time and has remained the right thing. Of course, I can say so much more about how I’ve grown as a small business owner. I would say more about the unique relationships that have become the hallmark of our homeschool experience.
But first, I would tell you what my husband said when I came home all fired up to start CC and become a Director.
Would you like to hear how the skeptic became a supporter?
I’ll keep writing if you’ll keep reading.
Laura Kooistra, the wife of Kent, mother to six, belongs body and soul to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A decades-long home educator, she has always employed classical learning tools but found her people and place in community when she joined CC as a Challenge B Director in 2012. Her two youngest daughters are enrolled in local Challenge programs. A hobby farmer in Southwest Michigan, she enjoys both sunrise and sunset from her open property. Laura collects big words, loves challenging books, drinks strong coffee, devours podcasts, grows flowers, overuses commas, and enjoys time together (her love language)!