Even in My Room They Still Hate School

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I go to work with a mission: I want students to love school.  I want them to want to come to school.  I want them to be excited about learning.  I think most teachers do.  So I stopped punishing, I stopped rewarding, I gave up as much homework as I could, I gave up grades and all of the tests I could.  I made it student-centered and student-led.  I gave them back the classroom.  And yet…some kids still hate school.  How do I know?  Because they told me.

I always end the trimester asking them for their opinion.  What should I change?  What did they love?  What do they never want to do again?  They always give me honest feedback and I take it to heart, changing the second trimester based on their feedback.  Does it sometimes hurt to read?  Absolutely.  Being told that a child hates school hurts.  And yet, it also tells me how much I am up against.

I am not the only factor in creating a love of school.  I can only do so much.  I can take the time I have control over and try to make it the best possible, but I cannot work miracles, even if I want to.  School is still school and no matter what you do there will always be kids that hate it.  Does that mean that our schools are broken?  Perhaps.  Does that mean that we are not reaching every kid?  Yeah, probably.  Does that mean that we still have to change the way school is done in most districts?  Absolutely.  Does it mean I am a terrible teacher?  Maybe for that kid.

But when a child tells us they hate school they are also telling us that they hope we will do something about it.  They are also trusting us with their words.  They are giving us another chance to make it better, to re-engage them, to work harder.  And they are giving us a chance to start a discussion, simply by asking them “Why?”

So on Monday, I get to ask why and then I get to listen.  Because that’s how we change school, we listen to the kids and we start a discussion.  Yes, the truth hurts, but it is no use to hide from it, even if it is not all your fault.

16 thoughts on “Even in My Room They Still Hate School

  1. I think that sometimes when a student “hates school”, it could be that they don’t like brick and mortar places to study. They would rather be outside or taking life’s lessons as they come. Just like not everyone must go to college just because that’s what parents and politicians believe, the same may be true with compulsory education.

  2. Pernille,

    Thank you for this great post, and I think that you have identified a key component in improving education for all students: we need to listen to them, and we need to engage them in discussions about why the feel a certain way about school, regardless if those feelings are positive or negative.

    During the past couple of years, I have polled my students fairly frequently to see what they think of my class and school in general. Sometimes, I will have them fill out a short Google Form to get their view on a recent assignment, and at other times I will have longer surveys that address broader issues in our classroom. Although as you state, this can be uncomfortable at times, I believe that it is an absolutely crucial practice. Not only will it give me honest feedback on my teaching, but perhaps just as importantly, it will allow students a voice in how our classroom is shaped. To be sure, as teachers we cannot please every student, but I firmly believe that the simple action of inviting them to participate in this discussion provides an opportunity to reach that girl or boy who “hates school.” Hopefully, it will provide them with a greater sense of ownership of their learning, which I believe is key to making education into something positive and worthwhile for all students.

    Again, thank you for a thoughtful and inspiring post!

  3. I think giving students a voice and teacher reflection are key to changing education for the better. Sometimes as I’m teaching, I realize the lesson is not the best or very engaging. Other times, I think the lesson/activity is awesome only to find it fall flat and so short of my dreams when planning it. However the opposite happens too. I think it’s just a typical lesson and the kids are so engaged, it’s hard to pull them away. I plan a few minutes for an activity but it ends up lasting much longer because of all the questions and new ideas that come out of it. It just reminds me that we teach small people with opinions and beliefs, interests and ideas that can align or oppose mine. The thing that matters is you listen to their voices. You take the time to ask what they would change or what they wish was increased. This not only changes the activities, it changes everyone in it. Thank you for your post. It reminds me that I need to ask my students to reflect with me!

  4. I like your thoughts here.

    You are right about “I am not the only factor in creating a love of school. I can only do so much.”
    There will be studetns who love school because of us and also in spite of us.

    I think the opposite of that is true too: I am not the only factor in creating a HATE of school. Both take time to develop. Even by 5th grade those feelings have probably been around for a while.

    I’ve had students not be able to articulate why they don’t like school. I’m not even sure they know. It could be something like their parents got divorced and they just kind of hate life right now.

    It’s important to ask for feedback not just so we can change things on our end, but so our students can clarify their thinking about it as well.

    Good post.

    – @newfirewithin

  5. One of my current students who has been on the academic team I help with said he liked all his teachers but hated school. Immediately, it hurt my feelings due to planning lessons which I feel are engaging and challenging. However, I stopped and took my emotion out of it to really think “why”. Obviously, he is motivated by learning but not the kind we offer? Maybe he hates the wasted time spent on the things which he just does but other students haven’t developed yet? These are the questions we have to begin asking. Also, I think, aren’t some of us like that in a PD?

    Great post.

  6. Pernille,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I too have thought about this issue. My Grade 12 students examined significant issues facing students their age. One issue that came up over and over is why high school students don’t like school and don’t want to go, when students in the developing world desperately want to attend.

    I also agree that the answer to this question is varied and wide ranging. However, as you note, the bigger point is that we need to listen. If we ask the question, we must be prepared for the answers we receive and must be ready to listen. Students, in fact all individuals, want a voice and want to know their voice is heard. As you say, that is how we will change education.

    Best,
    Sean Beaton

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