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.