Every day millions of kids attend classrooms in towns like yours all over the world. Parents and children look forward to the first day of kindergarten — the excitement of making new friends, learning to read and write; enjoying the world of opportunity that comes with growing up.
Sadly, many families are running into a school system that has marched on with the times. This is a world of standardized testing and common core cirriculum, and if your child does not fit the mold right away, they run a real risk of getting marginalized and bowled over.
Not Fitting the Mold
Our son has had a rough go with school from the very beginning. At 3 years old we put him in a morning preschool intended to expose children from English families to a French environment. What we didn’t know was the other children in the group came from French families. Instead of creating a comforting learning environment the teacher ignored our son whose French was not as good as the other (native speaking) children, going so far as leaving him in his wet clothes an entire morning because he didn’t know - because he wasn’t taught - how to ask to use the washroom in French.
That’s how our son ended up with “selective mutism caused by trauma” at the age of 3. Imagine a toddler bottled up afraid to speak to any adult because he’s been made to feel less than human at what should have been a safe and enriching environment. It took two years of play-based preschool and speech therapy, but by five our little boy was once again happy and chatting away, looking forward to Kindergarten and making friends.
We did what every nervous parent should do when we met his teacher at the welcoming meeting: we explained everything that our little boy had been through and we were reassured he would be in good hands.
A five-year-old cannot express fear and frustration but as a parent you know when all is not well in your child’s life. Our shining boy was losing his light; we didn’t know what was going on but knew it was bad. We made appointments with the teacher and support staff but felt stonewalled with stories about discipline problems and fighting in the classroom. When a substitute teacher came for a few days everything cleared only to pick up again when the homeroom teacher came back. We knew that whatever dynamic existed in the classroom was not working and was affecting our son in a big way.
Knowing we had tried all that could be done to resolve the situation on our own we escalated to the principal and asked for him to be changed classrooms. The school would not accomodate our request so we pulled him out and enrolled him in another across town.
I don’t know why the next teacher acted the way she did. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt; maybe she was reacting to having another student added to an already large class. Regardless, her actions crossed the line. On his first day in the class she told our son that was already failing to meet the group’s expectations and he would not be making friends that year. Who talks to a five-year-old like that?!
This time we went all the way up to the top of the schoolboard and harassed the superintendant until he assigned a beauraucrat to our cause. We had a little boy who wanted nothing more than to go to school and be with his friends, but had been out of the classroom because the adults in his life who should know better had deemed him somehow deficient. Finally we got what we knew and advocated for in the first place: he was placed in a different classroom in the first school.
His new teacher was absolutely fantastic. Our son had a lot of catching up to do from his time away from school, but his love of learning came back. The new teacher felt the same way we did about kindergarten: it should be a time to get a feel for school and learn to enjoy the learning process. This was a huge difference over the first teacher, who favoured seatwork over educational play: our five-year-old was not yet ready for hours of seatwork each day.
The rest of the year went absolutely smoothly; all of the “issues” that were present with the first teacher just didn’t exist. We are so grateful we ended up with the second teacher who was able to salvage what started as a horrible year of kindergarten.
Honestly the poor little guy has been through enough that I really wanted this year to go off without a hitch. The school year started late because of a teachers strike so instead of starting in September we started school in October. The kids were beyond ready to get back to school and at the time I was ready for them to go back too.
Pretty much as soon as school started so did the issues. My son was coming home not wanting to go back to school. He was being bullied by another child and on top of that he was struggling academically. We had a parent teacher interview and they told me my son was behind in certain areas which I wasn’t surprised about since he had been struggling, but although the school determined he was in need of extra help he wasn’t at the point to get a resource teacher. We kept getting the spiel about cutbacks and not having enough resource teachers so the spots were very limited and only once he got worse could they get him the appropriate help.
Let me tell you something: I don’t care about cutbacks. If I am going to put my child in the school system where I am told I need to trust and let the teachers do their work, then if we know theres a problem I want it fixed as soon as possible - not when he gets more behind!
Sadly while he was going through this he was also being bullied. My son would come home with ripped collars, bruises on his back from his bully hitting him with a stick, a mark on his face from being pushed down a hill, scratches that still haven’t healed and more. I tried working it out with the other childs parents but my words were falling on deaf ears. They believed that it was all normal behaviour and that they could handle it.
The week before halloween my son started really acting out and crying when it was time to leave him at school. He would hold on to my jacket and cry mommy please don’t leave me I will be a good boy please don’t leave me here. By the end of that week his bully had told my son that he hated him and was going to bring a gun to school and kill him. That’s when we decided to get the principle involved.
That morning we were trying and failing at getting our son to stay in his classroom so he ended up coming to the principle meeting with us. What happened next broke my heart. When the principle asked our son why he was crying he first said it was because he missed me and wanted to go home and play with his toys. When then principle then said well you miss those things everyday why are you crying so much today. He stood up and looked at her and told her he didn’t feel safe.
It took all I had not to break down and cry at that moment. Hearing your 6 year old doesn’t feel safe in a setting that you put them in is gut-wrenching.
That Was The Final Straw
After that meeting our son did go to school for the day but it would be the last day he attended school. I made up my mind that whatever it took I was going to go home and find my son a form of education where he could get the academic help and make my son feel safe again. That’s when I stumbled upon a website for a distributed learning program and decided that I was going to homeschool our son.
Once he was away from the school he started eating better, he started sleeping better and it was like life was coming back for him. Instead of struggling academically he is now at grade level; even excelling in and discovering a great love for math and science. Homeschooling isn’t always a walk in the park. He does try and test boundaries and get to see how much he can push my buttons to get out of doing his school work.
All in all the stress in both my son and my life has gone down. He goes to the learning centre once a week and has to do classes from 9-1. He gets to make friends that are being homeschooled just like him. He also gets to do extra curricular activities during the day while the other kids are in school. So his swim class is five kids including him instead of the 10 he use to have to swim with. He gets to do his school work in a couple of hours and pick what we will be learning in the afternoon. I am so grateful I found this program for him and that I did take the plunge.
There are many great teachers going to work every day to inspire and educate. We got to work with one, for a few months. Unfortunately the happy school life that gets sold to us on TV and from grandparents was not our experience; what we ran into was more like the bureaucratic underbelly of what could have been any generic, cold government service. Some have asked if I was nervous about taking the plunge and I have to say I wasn’t after everything my son has had to deal with in the school system I was relieved.