I want so badly for my kids to love school. The reality is that financial success in the real world depends on it. I have high hopes that my children find their passions young and enjoy pursuing them. Watching my husband struggle to find a career he loves while trying to finish a degree in his 40s makes the desire for my kids to love school even more important to me.
I was off to a great start, because my son loved kindergarten! He enjoyed the more than two hours of songs and play each day, a teacher who was as sweet as pie, and a few friends that he loved.
Life was good. Little would I know how a new teacher might affect his love for school.
Then came first grade and school day number four. He came home crying and let me know he was never going back to school. Why? “Because I hate it, that’s why!” With prodding, he told me that his new teacher had been yelling at him. Mama Bear quickly arrived on scene.
On school day five, I dropped him off at his classroom. Immediately, his new teacher started barking at me. “We need to talk, your son’s behavior is out of control.” She started rambling about my son’s “behavior” right in front of him. My jaw dropped in shock and anger, and finally she walked out of the classroom with me. I told her that while I knew he was a handful, I wanted to talk to her about her yelling at my son. She denied yelling, labeled it “talking sternly,” and made it clear that it was his fault.
Thus began my introduction to what it is like to interact with Mrs. F. I had heard rumblings that she did not tolerate boys’ shenanigans. All summer, I had reluctantly hoped that my son would sit still, follow directions, and raise his hand as expected. Multiple meetings ensued, including with Mrs F, the guidance counselor, and an occupational therapist.
I was told that my son is a “wiggly, excitable six-year-old boy who blurts out his thoughts before he realizes he’s even doing it.” Nothing I didn’t already know. I tried to explain that I was certain her manner of addressing him; being on his case constantly and without love, was fueling his behavior.
The guidance counselor and occupational therapist had many suggestions for Mrs. F to use, including movement breaks, elastic around the chair for him to kick, etc. As I was listening to them, I thought about how teachers’ expectations of first-graders are just crazy. Most adults have trouble sitting and concentrating for more than a few hours, even with snacks and restroom breaks!
My son literally cried every morning before school. He would plead to stay home, telling me how much he hated his teacher. It was a battle every day that made me cringe and cry along with him. By Thanksgiving, I’d had enough and and was ready to demand that his classroom be changed.
To my surprise, he did not want to change classrooms. “I’m nervous about the teacher, what if she yells, too”? And he would miss his friends, he said.
So I called in the big guns: the principal. I explained that my son’s self-esteem was being affected, that he thought he was a bad kid. His behavior at home had changed as well; he was angry most of the time. I told my son that I didn’t care if he fell behind academically, but that he needed to feel positive about school.
The principal laid down the law and basically told Mrs. F to lay off. I felt validated. Finally, someone was listening.
My son started private occupational therapy sessions, as well as regular visits with his guidance counselor. I started to see a slow change in him. By third-quarter report cards, he was doing much better in all areas: academics, behavior, self-esteem, etc. All of the educators on this team were pleasantly surprised by his growth. It’s amazing what a little TLC can do.
What I learned through a most painful process last year was that not all teachers are created equal. Not all teachers can tolerate the challenging children they teach. Our system of education is flawed in many ways, but mostly in the way that we expect every child to conform to the classroom routines and systems in place. Children by nature want to learn, but developmentally not all are ready to learn in the environment provided by a traditional school.
On the last day of first grade, my son found out who his second grade teacher would be. I soon learned from the neighborhood moms that this teacher was viewed as strict. My heart began to race when I heard this. I called the guidance counselor, who reassured me that this teacher runs a tight ship; however, she also loves her kids. I’m desperately hoping that she connects with my son, learns to work with his strengths, and above all inspires a love of learning in him. I think he’s more ready now to conform to the system, or at least enough to get by with a little less heartache.
During a recent car ride, my son said to my four-year-old, “You like school, and I don’t.” I said to him, “Second grade will be better.” I hope to God I’m right.