“You don’t understand! I hate school!”
I wish that this phrase was only uttered on particularly challenging mornings, but it isn’t. In between tears and shouting, these words have been consistent since September’s getting-to-know-you activities morphed into intense days of math, writing and all the other subjects students tackle daily.
Mornings aren’t supposed to be like this in my house.
At 5 years old, my son was identified as highly gifted. He was an early reader with a mature vocabulary. As a preschooler, he started conveying his imaginative thoughts through writing and was solving math problems in the car while he sat in his booster seat.
As an experienced elementary schoolteacher, I knew that my son was ready. I knew that school would be easy for him. I couldn’t wait for him to love school!
But he didn’t. And at 8, he still doesn’t.
His tolerance for school is diminishing; he doesn’t understand the smiles and happiness that he sees in his classmates.
Some students hate school because of academics. The material might be challenging, and for whatever reason, the student struggles to absorb and retain the needed information. Maybe the concepts are too abstract or the amount of material that is being presented is overwhelming.
For my gifted child, the academics are also frustrating, but for the opposite reasons. While teachers are trained to recognize that most students need information presented several times, the highly gifted child does not. When a child already knows the new concepts being presented, boredom builds, and he begins to wonder about the purpose of spending all day at school.
If a child like mine complains about being bored, he is often given more work. Not more complex work, just more of the same work. This is why some gifted children can become disruptive during class. He quickly realized that reading books of his choice or writing his own graphic novel in the principal’s office was more enjoyable than the grade-level material being delivered in class.
Not only does my child hate the academic parts of school, the social skills are hard for him, too. Friendship skills can be harder to tackle than academic struggles. My son doesn’t understand many of the social aspects of school. He misses social cues and doesn’t appreciate or understand joking or sarcasm. For him, it is a double whammy; most kids who struggle with math or reading still enjoy playing with their friends at recess.
Some students dread recess because other students bully them. Not long ago, whenever a teacher or staff member wasn’t looking, the same boy repeatedly pushed and tripped my son. Those students whom he considered friends did not stand up for him, so he felt betrayed and confused.
He tried to solve the problem himself, first by ignoring the boy and then, when that didn’t help, reporting it to the adults. After getting the school counselor and principal involved with this discussion, the bullying stopped . . . for now.
What else is hard for kids like mine? It seems that our schools are designed to celebrate the extroverted child. If your child is shy and quiet, raising a hand during class discussions or participating in cooperative learning activities can be terrifying. Introverted children are often misunderstood as they try to hide in the midst of those children comfortable with the attention. This seems to be increasingly true in magnet programs or resource classes for students identified as gifted.
In addition to the social and academic issues, the school environment takes its toll on my son. He is overwhelmed by the crowded halls, the bright lights, the noise and smells of the lunchroom, and the walls covered with colorful charts and student work. Even though my son is bright, the stamina that it takes for him to be in such a sensory-packed environment pushes him to mental and physical exhaustion.
During the last couple of years, I have been searching for answers. I have found that my son is not alone. There are many kids who report hating school. Some hate it because of academics or social issues, and many, like my son, hate it for many reasons. Lots of parents seek help so their child isn’t anxious about the place they have to go to every day.
Is there an easy solution? I don’t think so. I do know that some families with similar experiences have left traditional schools for homeschooling. My family isn’t there yet, but we haven’t ruled out the possibility in the future.
Although it has been hard, we have some good days. These days are the result of repeated discussions with my son about his discomfort and struggles. Continuing to educate the school staff about his academic needs, social immaturity and sensory issues have helped.
I do hope that with maturity, continued coping and problem-solving skills, and a more understanding education system, these hard mornings will become less common. It would help my son learn how to overcome his feelings of doubt and adversity. To me, that would be a true education!