Be the change, being me, new year, reflection

My Daughter Already Hates School and She Hasn’t Even Really Started Yet

image from icanread

The unthinkable happened.  Thea, my oldest daughter, came home, shoulders slumped, dropped her backpack on the floor and loudly exclaimed, “I hate school, mom!”

At first, I tsk, tsked it.  “I am sure school is fine, you are just tired,  why did you not have a good day?”

She looked me right in the eye, lifted her chin as if I wouldn’t believe her.  After all, this is summer school, “Moovin’ and groovin’ into Kindergarten,” buckets of fun to be had, right?

“They make me sit still.  All day, mom.  It’s not fun!”

And I realized that Houston, we may have a problem.

I have written before about Thea’s rambunctious nature and how I worried that school through its rules, crammed schedules, and Common Core curriculum would squash her artist dreams.  And yet, I figured she would adapt.  After all, the classrooms I have been in have been filled with life, even as teachers feel the pressure of everything they have to get through.  Teachers have defended kids against boredom, teachers have made school a place where students wanted to be.

Yet, Thea, at the old age of 5 1/2, after 6 weeks of summer school has made up her mind.  School is not for her.  Learning is not fun.  And sitting still all day is not what she wants to do.  Even though she has loved school for an entire year before, as a member of her 4-k classroom.  Those days she couldn’t wait to go to school, she didn’t ever want to stay home, and she complained loudly when there was no school.  But this time, in this summer enrichment program, things didn’t mesh with her and she is not staying quiet about it.

So, I try to explain that school is not always like this.  That school can be exciting.  That perhaps she remembers being in Ms. Moore’s room, my 1st grade buddy classroom, and how much fun she had.  Or how about last year? With Ms. Pirkel?   How much she loved school then?  Thea doesn’t want to hear it.  Her past experiences of going to school has been wiped away.  School is now somewhere dreaded, something she would rather miss.

As a mother, it saddens me immensely.  As a teacher, it spurs me into action because I realize once again how fragile students’ love of school is.  We may think that they can survive a bad year, and sure, some of them can.  But the damage that we can do within that year to their love of learning, their love for school, can be insurmountable.  The damage we can in a month, in a week, or even a day can often prove fatal to a student’s love of learning.  We have to remember that we are the frontline.  That we are the protectors of these kids and that the sometimes simple rules that we implement can do a lot of damage.  That yes, there is so much to do these days, so much to be done to our students, but that we still have to preserve the joy of school.  We have to protect it.

We cannot dismiss students’ hatred of school, we must battle it head on.  We must ask them, think of solutions, and then implement them.  We must have these tough discussions in our classrooms, with our hardest students, so that we can show them that school doesn’t have to be awful.  That doesn’t mean that school becomes a circus, or a show, or an act of entertainment, but simply a place where students feel they have a place.  Where students feel that their time invested is worthwhile.

Thea’s love of school was destroyed by the rule that she had to sit at her desk at all times according to her.  Granted, she does need to learn to sit still in a school setting, but how easily can it be modified?  How easily could she sit on the floor?  In a chair somewhere?  If that is all it takes to not make her hate school, then why not do it?

We have to be wary of our own rules.  We have to ask students what those rules make them feel.  We have to figure out where we can let go because it doesn’t make that much of a different to us, but may make the biggest difference to a child.  A difference between hating and loving school.

The battle is not done with Thea.  Summer school is over today and I keep telling her that kindergarten will be totally different.  That she will love it.  I keep repeating this until she nods, but in my heart, I wonder if the words I say are true or merely my hopes?  I hope she loves it, but who knows, perhaps school and her have a long way to go just yet.  Either way, I know I have my work cut out, with her, and with all the kids entrusted to me on a daily basis.

PS:  Several people wondered why she is in a summer school program, which is a great question.  We have moved to a new community that has an outstanding enrichment summer school program with art, dancing, singing etc.  Thea is inherently social so this became an opportunity for her to meet new friends while getting out of the house.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.



21 thoughts on “My Daughter Already Hates School and She Hasn’t Even Really Started Yet”

  1. I’m a teacher who’s passionately dedicated to public education, but when this happened to my kindergartener, we homeschooled. 11 years later – best decision I ever made.

  2. That’s heartbreaking to hear as a mom, and as a teacher it brings a lot of baggage to the forefront. Education is definitely in transition, but boy, it’s tough. We’ve got to put our kids first and especially our own children. Too many mandates are killing education and our kids are the casualties.

    As a former public school teacher (23 years) , the thought of homeschooling was a totally foreign concept for me….until I became a homeschool mom. I pushed through 4 years of my son not being happy at school. He had good days and great days, but something was always “off”. When it came to physically dragging my son to school, it finally hit me that I couldn’t go on like that. I left teaching (or I prefer, teaching left me). When I finally got away from the system, I knew I was pressured into so much I didn’t agree with, but I hadn’t realized how bad it was. These days, 1/2 of the homeschool moms I meet are former classroom teachers.

    You’re not alone.

    There need to be different types of schooling for different types of kids. Keep homeschooling an option in the back of your mind. It’s there. I don’t regret my choice…not even for a day.

    Good luck to Thea and you!

  3. As a mom of two teenagers, I am afraid that you may be in for a rough road ahead. I have always wanted to be the teacher for my students that I only wished my own children could have. Sadly, except for Kindergarten, that just never happened. My 15-year-old son now openly expresses how much he hates school, and my college freshman daughter now admits how she wishes she had had a teacher like me.

    Something is broken in public education that allows those of us who have devoted our lives to teaching to be looked upon as teacher nerds by our colleagues, misunderstood, harassed and bullied by them. Yes, our students and parents revere us for that magical year that they are with us, but is it only to be undone the following year?

    I wish I had an answer…

  4. I wish you would start a small private school for Thea and a few others her age. you would have many followers….

  5. The first thing that came to my mind was to wonder why there is summer school before kindergarten and why would anyone enroll in it? I’ve taught K-12 and have 4 kids of my own. I make opportunities for my HS students to get out of their seats during our 1-hour class because I know how much I hate to sit still for too long. If a teacher doesn’t have good classroom management, then they compensate with restrictive rules.

  6. 6 weeks of summer school for a Kindergartener?!?! What happened to carefree summer days….Houston, we REALLY have a problem!

    1. Ah, let me explain. We just moved to a new city and they have an enrichment summer school program, so not summer school in the typical way, but rather dancing, singing, art etc. Also, Thea loves being with other kids and since we have the 3 little ones at home who nap in the morning we don’t get out of the house much until the afternoon. Thus the 6 week program to have her meet new friends and have some fun. Obviously, things did not work out as planned!

  7. This is so sad. Unfortunately, we lived through the same. We are in a small district–100 in the graduating class. I taught kdg for 1.5 years, then left to stay home with my daughter. The teacher who took over for me would make a great army drill sergeant. One mom told me her son went down in 19 areas on his report card from my marks to hers. Then my son was assigned to her room. He loved learning–was the talkative, active, bubbly type. He could also read and write when he went to school. He sang songs to his bus driver all the way in. He started losing enthusiasm after a few months. One day when it was snowing, I said he might not have school if it snowed too much. He said he didn’t want to go. I was floored. I went in for the Christmas party and saw what was going on—she was so strict it was almost bullying. She’d give him time outs–long ones for developmental behavior–like mussing someone’s hair as he walked by them–an affectionate gesture in our house. He couldn’t earn stars on his projects because for example during “P” week he made a half pink, half purple pig and it didn’t look like her all pink one. He had time outs almost daily. He scribbled with a black crayon in his journal. When I asked him what it was he said “a rain cloud.” I listened to him and watched his smile. To make a long story short–he came home one day and I knew it was the last day. I said to him “How would you feel if you never went back to so-and-so’s class again?” He said he never wanted to go back. I told him to sit right at the kitchen table because I was calling the principal and I wanted him to hear what I had to say. I told the principal he was not stepping foot in her classroom again–told him all the reasons why–and said to send the paperwork home for me to homeschool or he had to move to the other classroom. My son said he wanted to move to the other classroom– I know he loved the social aspect of school. So I called the other teacher and she was thrilled to get him. She had heard him greet his other teacher with tidbits of news every morning and thought he was a gem (He’s 27 now and still is!). He bravely went to school and walked into the new room the next day. We practiced what he could say to kids. He didn’t smile that day until after dinner. Broke my heart. Once in the new room he started drawing rainbows and wrote–with perfect spelling “Rainbows come after rain storms.” The new teacher said it would have been a perfect case for a psychiatrist to study.

  8. I was in the same boat with my son as he entered school. I have written about things on my blog here

    What I found through having my own children go through school is a reawakening of my thoughts on education. I am on the other side and working to deal. With my son I have found that education is still very linear while our lives are nonlinear. It is not an easy process, but one that will be good for both of you to have conversations and work through things.

  9. My son, now going in to 5th grade, had the most amazing 1st grade teacher who referred to him as a ‘restless learner’. She was very structured in her day, but she was also very accommodating and knew he needed to move as he thought, so often he would stand as he worked or sat up on his knees or bounced a knee, and she encouraged that movement. Hopefully Thea will find teachers like that as well.

  10. Unfortunately, you predicted it in your July 2012 blog post. Didn’t take long for it to come true. So sad to hear. I hope the damage can be undone. When it’s personal, we need to fight hard for our own kids.

  11. It was a struggle everyday getting my oldest son to go to Kinder. When I became a teacher, I made it a priority to help all of my students feel safe, welcomed, and really enjoy being in my class. I went on to become a school counselor and just published my first book: “I Don’t Want to Go to Kindergarten…I’ll Miss You Toooo Much!” It’s a fun story that teaches a skill I share regularly with middle school students and adults to make any challenge easier. There are also many suggestions on my blog at: I hope you and your daughter have an amazing year. 🙂 Maureen King

  12. My daughter is an educator, and posted your blog post on her Facebook page. I was moved after reading your account of Thea’s declaration about school. The reason being that when my daughter (who I have just referred to) went into Kindergarten she made the same declaration. I was brushing her hair, getting her ready for school one morning, when she told me she just really did not like Kindergarten, and with tears in her eyes, said that she “just wanted to go back to preschool”. Like you, I assured her that she would love her new class and everything would be great. It was, and she did. The next year she would be moving just down the hallway to her First Grade classroom. I thought this would be a piece of cake, since she wasn’t actually moving from one school to the next. Wrong. When we parked the first day of school, she would not get out of the car. And, when I finally coaxed her out, she clung to my leg and cried the entire way in. With her new teacher’s help, she finally let loose of my leg and went into class. I felt horrible, and wondered why she would feel this way. Within no time, she was having a wonderful year! Subsequent years brought stomach aches the first few days of school, and then she was off and running.
    I am happy to telly you that throughout her career as a student she was completely successful. She holds a Masters Degree in Library Science, and is a wonderful First Grade teacher.
    I totally agree with you that Educators (and parents) do have the delicate responsibility of making sure that children love school and learning. I also agree that the love of learning can be easily squelched. However, I think that like my daughter, Thea comes from a home where learning and reading happens on a daily basis, and she will excel in school because of this. I believe that Thea will surprise you this coming year, and that you don’t have anything to worry about.

  13. The “outstanding” enrichment program was to include dance and movement, yet “Thea’s love of school was destroyed by the rule that she had to sit at her desk at all times according to her.” I would be speaking about the daily activities with the other educators of this program about what kinds of events may have led to your child’s displeasure. After all you advocate for battling this head on. You must call and trust and work with professionals who are in the same work as you towards the results you want to see. This is due dilligence.
    Rules are here for a reason, and unfortunately one of life’s biggest,under-rated lessons is coping with these rules. I would investigate them more before continuing to caution against rules, especially when generalizing rather than getting into specifics.

  14. If you have any respect for any educators other than yourself, you will stop blogging about what a terrible job your daughter’s teacher is doing and have a private conversation with her and any future teachers. Any article of yours I have stumbled upon have consistently been self-aggrandizing–no one is as good as you–we get it.

    1. Thank you for your comment, if you read further back in this blog, you will see that I also reflect on my own practice; the good and the bad a lot. I don’t think I am better than other educators, I think I have said that too, however, when it comes to my child and the direct effect teachers have on her, yes, I have the right to reflect on what it is doing and push for change. I have discussed this with her teachers as well. What an unkind comment you end with.

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