My heart is breaking a little.
One of the children I used to teach has announced to his parents that he now "hates school". He's in kindergarten.
What, you ask, could possibly make a child hate kindergarten? Isn't that the grade where you go and play with stuff? You learn to make friends and learn the alphabet and eat fun snacks? You get to play on the playground and only stay for part of the day? Your teachers are nice and you get to use cool stuff like crayons and markers and scissors and glue all day? That's how it was when I was in kindergarten. In fact, one of my fondest memories is of my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Manix. (I could be spelling her name wrong, but cut me some slack...I was only five and it was a long time ago!) Anyway, she was the coolest person on the planet in my book. I LOVED Mrs. Manix. She had a Ronald McDonald doll, and when it was your special day, you got to go check the weather and dress old Ronald appropriately. On MY day, it was raining, and I got to put on his raincoat. Heh. Score.
Anyway, when I heard recently that my sweet little friend--the same exuberant, creative, fun-loving child I had taught for multiple years--was now saying he hated school, my heart broke a little bit. I think that happens to most adults when they finally hear the dreaded words from their children's mouths: "I hate school." We like to believe that if teachers are doing their jobs correctly, and parents are doing theirs, we can avoid that attitude. And I believe, to some extent, we can. My youngest child was ten before she ever mentioned not liking school, and hers stemmed from peer pressure. When I asked her why she didn't like school, her answer was along the lines of, "Well, Tammy and Lisa and Margaret don't like it either. And Mrs. Blue makes us do WORK!" (Oh horror! And yes, the names have been changed to protect the innocent from my daughter's accusations ;-)) My son, however, was three weeks into his first public school experience when he began coming home from school in tears and begging not to go back.
Difference in resiliency? Possibly. Difference in personality? Absolutely. Difference in school experience? You bet. You see, my son's teacher spent the majority of the day with over twenty first graders sitting at seats, unable to do anything but write and answer her drills. There were no group activities, no social activities, no hands-on learning. Whereas my daughter had teachers who engaged her cognitively by using multiple types of learning strategies (games, group activities, independent activities, physical movement, etc.), my son had a teacher who utilized two strategies--independent work (completing worksheets) and drilling sounds and words. You know, she said the word and he said it back. She said the sound and he said it back. On curriculum night, I was only there for forty-five minutes and I was ready to tear my own eyes out of my sockets and shove them in my ears to end it all.
Which brings me all back to my little friend who, in kindergarten, hates school. How does that happen, again? Sometimes I worry that the kind of teaching we do in preschool--emergent curriculum that encourages children's curiosity, questions, and thinking--sets them up for painful public school experiences. It's difficult to go from an environment where your questions and creativity are not only seen as assets but encouraged to one where the expectation involves warming a seat for multiple hours. It's hard to go from having a teacher who answers your challenges with, "That's a good idea...let's try that," to one who sees challenges as defiance. And it's hard, as a parent, to move from a classroom that focuses on a home-like environment to a more sterile space with more children, fewer teachers, and less intimate communication.
I don't know how to solve the problem of helping little ones to like school. Obviously it's a complex issue that involves a lot of dedication on many levels. In my fantasy world, schools would be geared around children's needs instead of governmental agendas; teachers would be trained to understand children's perspectives and recognize that social and emotional development is as critical as cognitive development; classrooms would be supplied with everything they needed without elaborate fundraising schemes or bake sales; parents would partner with teachers willingly and easily to establish and reach goals for each child; and every child would come to public school ready to learn. But regardless of whatever national or state laws or policies we pass, these things have not happened, and my little friend still has days he hates to go to school.
To him I say this: sometimes we have to learn to work with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. That's a hard concept for a kindergartner, but it's practice for life. And to every mom and dad out there facing the same situation, know you have a right to advocate for your child. You have the right to insist your child be in a comfortable learning environment where needs are met.
Just know we're not all there yet.