Guest Blogs

Great School, Great Teachers — Finally

A mom searches for — and finds — a new school for her unhappy, unappreciated sons. You can, too.

When my two sons were young, I meditated just to get through the morning. They hated school and getting them up was a nightmare. Our oldest son is predominantly inattentive and our younger son is hyperactive and impulsive.

In school, our inattentive son was well behaved, but he tuned out the teacher and missed much of what was going on. His brother had trouble sitting still, not talking out of turn, and keeping his hands to himself. They both struggled with making and keeping friends.

Our eldest son was in kindergarten when he started waking up in tears. He had gone to a small preschool and, after a short transition period, came to love his teachers and his classes. We expected that it might take him a while to adjust to the rigors of kindergarten, but by November, we knew we had a problem.

[10 Ways We’d Fix the U.S. School System If We Could]

Every day he would leave and come home from school sad. Every day my spouse and I heard about what was wrong with school: His teacher was moody, the kids were loud, the workbooks were boring, there were too many rules, and the classroom was too small. One night we insisted that he find something good to tell us about school. The only good place at school, he said, “is sitting under the big tree on the playground.”

It was the impersonal nature of school that distressed him the most. “My teacher screams at me, but she doesn’t even know me.” He was not complaining about being yelled at, he was complaining about being in a classroom seven hours a day, five days a week, with a teacher who didn’t “know him.” We were concerned and spoke to his teacher. She assured us that our son would get used to it and that he needed to spend more time paying attention.

Around the same time, we had a meeting with our younger son’s preschool principal. She wanted us to have him run around the playground before class to calm him down before school started. Our eldest son had also attended this preschool, and we asked her advice about his kindergarten complaints. She told us that his concerns were not normal and encouraged us to find a school with teachers who would take the time to get to know them and teach to their strengths.

Finding a school with teachers who could address our son’s needs with a personal touch, optimism, and compassion would not be easy. To better guide our search, we made a list of teacher characteristics that we were looking for. Our ideal teacher would

>> get to know our children as individuals and teach each child, not the classroom.

>> consider parents to be partners and welcome them in the classroom.

[When Traditional Schools Fail Your Child]

>> have a passion for learning and find and encourage our children’s passions.

>> make learning active and fun and understand that breaks, recess, and a sense of humor were as important as classroom time.

>> be good mentors and motivated, enthusiastic, life-long learners.

We had set the bar high and did not expect to find a school with everything that we wanted. We talked with the preschool principal, friends, neighbors, and family for recommendations, which gave us a short list to work with. We searched the recommended schools and their mission statements on the Web and read reviews in local magazines. We called admissions offices and set up school and classroom tours.

I am happy to report that today my children are in sixth and eighth grade and attend a great school where the majority of teachers are everything we had hoped for.

Our kids are happy in school. They spend their days in open, laughter-filled classrooms with teachers who have a genuine interest in them. I am grateful to have found a school with engaged and happy teachers that mentor my kids with respect, patience, humor, and an honest understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. I would be lying if I said that our sons don’t occasionally grumble about having to go to school — what kid doesn’t? — but, thankfully, crying, screaming, and meditation are no longer part of my morning ritual.