Friday, June 4, 2010

Reviewing the Crew Part III: It's a JOB

In reviewing my Crew year, I talked about the stuff, and talked about the people.

Then there is the JOB aspects of being on the crew.  Because that is how I looked at it when I applied.  It is a job.  I'm getting paid in product, some of which may not be a good fit for my family, some of which I will love.  But either way, I'm being "hired" to share information, including my opinions, about these items.  I have deadlines, I have responsibilities, and like any job, there will be aspects I don't love.  

There were a few times this past year where I did have to tell my kids to buck up... because they were part of this job too.  And while I prayed for math a year ago, I wasn't expecting to see so much of it, nor did I expect so much all at once.  For perspective, we (meaning MY family) reviewed ALEKS, QuarterMile Math, College Prep Genius (SAT prep, and it included a lot of math), GyMathtics, Mathletics, two DVDs from Math Tutor DVD, Dollar Homeschool (included Ray's Arithmetic), Math Score, Facts First, Math Mammoth, Galaxy of Education, Balance Benders, Time4Learning Preschool, Ideal Curriculum (included some math), and Financial Accounting 1 (not exactly math, but, well, math-y).  I think the only math-related product we didn't get would be from Bonnie Terry Learning (we got reading materials instead).   For the record, I'm praying for science for this next year... and for writing... and some balance so nothing is too far out of whack...

There were times where I was totally overwhelmed.  Like when I was trying to write up my review of Illuminations (which was overwhelming all by itself) at the same time that the heaviest of the math overload was going on.  And considering I had 67 different vendors (if I just counted right), some sending multiple products, the reality was that I had to be writing roughly 2 reviews a week for the majority of the year.  Especially if you add in the blog posts I wrote for the TOS Crew website too.  I'm not complaining, mind you.  For the most part, I loved the products and we benefitted from all of them.  But it definitely kept me busy.

One aspect of this job that I don't think some people quite understand is that this wasn't about me & my family.  The huge number of products that were at least very good for us (if not great or perfect) was a huge blessing.  But being on the Crew isn't a Santa Claus thing.  You don't get to fill out a wish list and have some genie magically grant you only products that are perfect for you.  It is about providing a service to other homeschool families... and the reviews from people who didn't like a product are at least as valuable to other homeschoolers as the reviews from people who loved that product.

My standard disclaimer says something about me telling you when I don't like something... and how I want to give you enough detail as to WHY I didn't like it.  Because some of my frustrations with, say ALEKS for my dyslexic 5th grader (his math is  far more advanced than his reading, which made this program a not very good fit for him unless I was there to read to him, which I really didn't want to have to do) may help you avoid this for your child with reading challenges.  For someone else whose kids excel at reading but struggle with math, you know that my concerns are not an issue for you.  (For the record, I loved, loved, loved ALEKS for my oldest...)

The job is also about providing a service to the vendors.  And I think, again, that vendors only benefit when people from a variety of backgrounds are reviewing their product.  I'm sure they would rather get only positive, raving types of reviews.  But I've been convinced to purchase more than one product based on a well-written review from someone who did not like the item being reviewed.  And I know I've heard via email from people who have read one of my non-glowing reviews and it totally convinced them to go spend money on the item.

Other aspects of the job included a lot more exposure to some of the homeschool products out there, and a much higher awareness of how a given item can be tweaked to be used in totally different ways.  Even with the vendors I didn't review (off the top of my head that would be Rocket Phonics, We R Fun, Pandia Press, and Barchowsky Handwriting) just by seeing the conversations on the forum, and by now following a whole bunch of blogs, I learned a lot about them.

The really great aspect of the job has been what it has done for my family.  My kids have watched me deal with deadlines, and they have watched me deal with things that aren't exactly my preferred way of working.  They have watched me learn.  And they have had deadlines as well.  They have learned to be more flexible, they have learned quite a bit about sticking with something that has to be done.  And they have enjoyed hearing what other families thought about some of the things we have done too.

It's been a great year.  And next year... well, that's the next post.


Deb said...


Your reviews are always terrific. They are very detailed and I always appreciate specifics on the things you do and don't like. Like you said, some things other people consider a con would be a pro to me and vice versa. I have read other TOS crew reviews where they are clearly phoning it in - basically just reading the description off the back of the book. You never do that.

As a matter of fact, when I started my blog I considered applying to be a crew member, but after realizing how much work you put into it and how much it must disrupt your school plans, I have decided to wait.

I guess I don't really have a relevant comment, but I did want to let you know that I do notice and appreciate what a great job you do with the reviews. I have made notes for several products to check out based on what you have had to say.

Debra said...

Deb -- you gotta try out next year!

It really isn't *that* much extra time, but yeah, it does disrupt homeschooling some. Usually for the good though. Most reviews take me around an hour to write. Some take considerably longer. Some are actually shorter.

And WHY can't I find your email address? I thought I had it somewhere.

We might be in your neck of the woods a couple of times this summer. I'm going to keep looking...

Deb said...

Debra - I updated my Blogger profile to show my email. I have been doing more research on CHEC and have been disappointed with what I am finding...I would still very much appreciate your input.