Last year my son hated school. I mean, he really hated it.
It tore us apart — his hatred and my insistence that he attend. And none of it was aided by the school administration who didn’t address our concerns and constantly harassed me about him being late.
He was late because he refused to go. He was late because he was crying. He was late because he was screaming and tantruming and mad. He was late because as I literally dragged him out of bed, literally shoved his clothes on him and literally pushed him into the car, I scraped him with my fingernail or bumped him with my elbow or hurt him in some way.
I hurt him and there was no way I would let that go without an apology and a hug and reassurances.
Last year, we fought every day, or Monday to Friday, at least. And a lot of the time I blamed my son — for his stubbornness and his defiance and his inability to make our day-to-day life less stressful.
It was stressful. I was late for meetings or appointments. He was late for school. We were being judged. And there was no way around it, no solution. I couldn’t get my son to co-operate.
I couldn’t make him happy and I was frustrated and ashamed.
This year I discovered the solution. The solution was to stop blaming my son and myself. The solution was to put him in a different school, a school where the principal didn’t insist on locking the doors at 8:30 on the dot or roaming the hallways at 8:25 sternly telling children to get into their classrooms, but instead insured there was always someone to greet the children warmly at the entrance and leave the doors unlocked an extra 15 minutes for the occasional SNAFU in timeliness.
You see, last year, even if he got to the schoolyard in time, he didn’t always make it to the doors in time. And if he didn’t, he had to walk all the way around the building and wait at the front doors to be buzzed in. Then he had to wait for a late slip. So while on the one hand he was being rushed to class, on the other hand he had a lot of obstacles in his way if he made the slightest mistake.
Can you imagine a workplace where if you’re just 10 seconds late you’re locked out and need to ask permission to come in? And every moment you wait for that permission is more money off your paycheque? Would you be happy in such an environment?
There was a lot more going on than that in my estimation: unaddressed bullying, unrealistic expectations, unfair and imbalanced treatment of students and an overall feeling that no one was listening to him.
I had that same feeling too. And yet, for some reason, perhaps because I felt my ability to parent properly was being questioned, I didn’t see the similarities between my feelings and his. I tried to solve it at the family level, by putting more pressure on him and by trying to strategize solutions in our morning routine. But the problem really was at the school level.
How can I be so sure? Because this year my son loves school. He’s the first one ready most mornings. Even the other night when he stayed up late and fought going to sleep and wasn’t easy to wake in the morning — once he was awake he was dressed and the first one out the door.
There’s less interpersonal conflict in his classroom. His teacher is a treasure.
The homework is much less demanding of his time and ability to sit still, but equally demanding of his thought processes. And I’m not hauling him out of bed and force-dressing him while pleading with him to stop being so difficult.
The problem wasn’t my son. The problem was the system. But the scary thing is, if we hadn’t moved and been rezoned, he would’ve stayed in that system and I would’ve continued both blaming him and feeling like a failure myself for his hatred of school.
I let the outside pressure from an unco-operative and difficult institution affect our family dynamic to such a high degree that if he had continued at the same school for another three years he would’ve likely dropped out or given up before high school.
Our children need guidance, discipline and encouragement. But sometimes what they really need is for us to say “this isn’t your fault, this isn’t my fault, this situation sucks and I’m taking you out of it.”
In the end, what’s more important that tardy slips and even an education is our child’s sense of self-worth. I hope that between my efforts and that of his new, encouraging school we can rebuild my son’s.
I know we can, in fact, because I see it happening before my eyes. What I’m worried about is the parents who don’t have the ability to switch schools or pull their child out to homeschool. I’m worried about their children and how a system gone wrong early in their lives can affect so much more than their math skills.
I’m worried that in our quest to make our schools more inclusive of students with different abilities we’ve forgotten that they also have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses and teachers are stretched too thin to address it all.
And I’m worried that our schools continue to be political entities with power structures in administration that rival the House of Assembly. What really worries me is that this new school “superboard” will only worsen existing issues.
Our children deserve a top notch education and taxpayers deserve an efficiently run school system, but most of all we need a safe and caring environment in which to foster our children’s growth — whether that be at home or in the school.
You can comment on this column or access previous editions of Readily A Parent using the following short link: http://bit.ly/DaraSquires.