There was a time when I did not worry about the structure of the institution where my children learn, but here we are.
The public school system is based on the factory model of education which has not been updated in over a hundred years. It is a place where children have little choice on what curriculum is being delivered, how it is delivered and who they share their space with. For my daughters, going to school was an enjoyable and successful experience. My son was a different story.
In my son’s younger years, he struggled with the routine of the classroom and seemed less socially mature than his sisters did at the same age. As the years progressed, the environment became stricter, the demands of the work increased and the emails started coming in from his teachers.
He was struggling with staying focused and finishing his work. He was getting up and walking around, sharpening pencils and visiting with peers when he should have been sitting. It was suggested that he stay in for recess to catch up, which is probably the most important part of the day for him — being able to run, being physical and expending energy can mean the difference between him meeting the expectations of the classroom and getting into trouble. His teachers found him a struggle to teach.
At home, every day is also a struggle because he never wants to go to school. He explains to me that it is stressful and he thinks that the teachers don’t like him. He is well aware that he is often perceived in a negative light and this causes him to disconnect.
In a recent conversation with a group of moms, I discovered I am not alone. They also spoke of their sons facing challenges at school. Their boys were getting into trouble for being distracted, not sitting still and not engaging with their work. Some of these boys were having privileges like playing on sports teams taken away, the very things they looked forward to. They disliked going to school, and it was a daily struggle for them and their parents.
In the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, authors Micheal Reichert and Richard Hawley report that boys are being kept behind in schools two times more often than girls. Boys are also diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls. Boys earn lower grades in schools, are more likely to drop out of high school and make up only 43 per cent of the college student population. The authors concluded that traditional teaching methods were not as effective with boys. Instead of punishing them for their natural traits such as high energy and competitiveness, engaging those qualities would lead to increased success in the classroom.
It seems my son and his friends are not alone.
Education is important and the expectations in the classroom are not going to change any time soon, regardless of the evidence that some kids (especially boys) are struggling. Aside from sending these kids to school and begging them to just conform — to fit into that box — there are some things we can do.
When my son was experiencing the hardest part of his school year, I met the principal with my son present. We talked about what the principal perceived my son’s struggles to be in the classroom. Through that conversation, we were able to come up with some tools that my son could use in the classroom that very day.
He was able to access noise-cancelling headphones that the school already had on hand, and I provided fidget toys. Every school and teacher will have their own policy on these, but thankfully for my son it was an acceptable tool that he could bring to class.
My son’s teacher and I kept an ongoing dialogue during the school year. She kept me in the loop when my son was struggling and also when things were going well. The teacher also allowed me to suggest ways to for help him succeed in the classroom.
Let your child tell their side of the story.
When my son would return home from a harder day than usual, I would give him the time and space to tell me how he felt. Being able to tell his story from his perspective did not always excuse what had happened that day, but for him it made all the difference.
As parents, we can’t necessarily change the current educational system or the expectations it sets, but there are still many ways we can make a difference in our kids’ success every day. If we put our efforts into working together to engage and support our kids, this could lead them to enjoy learning and make teachers more eager to teach them.
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