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My Kids Hate School And I Don’t Want Them To Know I Did Too

Feb 9, 2018

Most people have a special kind of nightmare — the kind where you wake up screaming and screaming. This was my version of that. I knew it would happen, eventually. I still wasn’t ready.

My oldest had just started grade one. It was probably the second or third week of school. It happened at breakfast: “I hate school,” he announced. “I don’t want to go.” Then he started to cry.

Breakfast is of course the busiest, and therefore the most stressful, part of my day. That’s where my wife and I swill coffee, one eye on the clock, while our three young kids shovel cereal.

The face of my next oldest bobbed up from his bowl of Cheerios. He has just started junior kindergarten this year. “I hate school, too,” he chimed in.


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I did what any parent would do when blindsided during the bustle of the school morning crunch: I pretended it wasn't happening. I told them to finish their breakfasts, fold their pyjamas, brush their teeth and to make it snappy.

Grade one. Seriously? Who decides that they hate school at the beginning of grade one?

I knew the one thing I couldn’t tell him was the truth. I couldn’t tell him that I had hated school. That I had hated it with a passion right up until my first year of university, and even then there were large parts of it that I could have done without. I couldn’t tell him that school is a mostly dull and kind of imperfect exercise that probably, maybe, if you are lucky, makes you a better person and provides you with skills and knowledge that will be somewhat useful to you later in life.

' hate school,' he announced. 'I don’t want to go.' Then he started to cry.

At that moment, I couldn't bring myself to say things like, "One day you’ll appreciate it, mostly." Or: "The best parts of school are the people you meet there. That some of those people will be teachers who want to help you. That it might be fun at times, but don’t count on it, and the best thing to do is figure out exactly what is expected of you and do your best to deliver that."

I said none of these things. Instead my wife and I picked quiet moments, away from his siblings, to ask him questions about school and listen to what he had to say. 


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As any parent who has weathered a school hate-on knows, it can take an entire year of questions, independent sleuthing and meetings with the teacher to figure out just what might be turning your kid off school. And even then the picture is a fuzzy one. In our case, our best guess was that a combination of bullying, sloppy work habits and a teacher who was unwilling to adapt their teaching style (he’s just one kid afte rall), were contributing factors.

After all of the early workshopping, things have improved. This is partly due to circumstances and the fact that we’re better positioned to support him (a year of fact finding helps), but the questions and sleuthing never end once there's a reason for them to start.

I knew the one thing I couldn’t tell him was the truth. I couldn’t tell him that I had hated school.

Once your kid admits to hating school, you are forever on guard, especially if you hated school yourself.

And now my nightmare isn't just that they hate school, but that in my efforts to sort out why, they might find out I hated it, too. And while there are plenty of good reasons to hate school, I can only wonder how they'll feel if they ever found out that I knew it... and didn’t warn them.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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