Back to School

Around here it’s the first day of the new school year and I feel queasy.

On social media, proud parents are posting messages wishing their little darlings and little darling’s friends well at their new school/in their new class. There are photographs of slightly embarrassed children in new school uniforms and comments saying how excited the children are. And I feel even more queasy.

In all honesty I can tell you that there are still nights I wake up terrified from a dream about trying to memorise a complex school timetable or being forced to play volleyball. Even entering a school building makes me go cold inside. The fact that our local swimming pool is on school grounds put me off going for ages.

So, on this day, I am thinking of all those children who hate school. Who, like me, will be educated despite rather than because of school. Who will wake up every weekday morning for years dreading the day ahead. Who, more than 30 years after they last walked out of their school gate, are still adversely affected by their experiences.

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Even at the age of 5 I didn’t seem to be enjoying myself (fourth from the left seated, on the second row)

I don’t have children and I’m not a teacher, but if you are I urge you to remember that school days are not always the happiest days of our lives. I know that home education is not possible for everyone, but if your children have to go to school, please support them if they find it a difficult experience. And if you are a teacher, please remember that there may be children in your class who are terrified or stressed or simply unhappy; that bullying can be very subtle; that not being good at sports can be incredibly isolating; that being different can make you a victim. Children who feel this way almost certainly can’t tell you, for fear of the response of their classmates or because they simply daren’t speak to you.

We all learn in different ways, and a classroom is not the ideal place for everyone… a bit more flexibility in our education system would help. However, I doubt this is something that we will see soon in the UK. Anyway, for the moment I just want to highlight the issue and say to any children reading this who feel this way, there are people who understand… and life is SO much better once you don’t have to go to school any more.

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31 Comments

  1. I think you have made a really important point. I know that there will always be people who feel that school is the wrong place for them but I really REALLY hope that the school system in general,and teachers in particular, are better at dealing with different personalities, different strengths and learning styles than they were when we were at school ourselves.

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  2. Ann

     /  September 5, 2016

    Hugs for you Jan, I had no idea. Whilst school wasn’t the happiest days of my life, and yes I did get bullied & had very few friends, it wasn’t traumatic like yours was. XXXX

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    • I had four years at a brilliant school, but even there I found it problematic. When I got to high school it was just miserable … not helped by my dad being taken very seriously ill 8 weeks after I started.
      I love being an adult!!

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  3. Like you, I found the ‘sausage machine’ system that is schooling miserable, lonely, frightening and amidst all the stress, boring. I could read when I went to school, was brought forward 2 years, spent my time being bullied for being younger, smaller and possibly brainier than my cohorts. I was chewed up and squeezed out, and feel that my education was actually achieved in the years before and after school, certainly not during. I’m fortunate they didn’t manage to dull my passion for reading… School is not for everyone, and I’d like to see the alternatives supported more.

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    • Yes, there seems to be little support given to those who wish to educate their children outside ‘the system’. Indeed, the media seem often to present home-educators as loony hippes who neglect their children… when in fact in my experience neglect is the last thing on the minds of most parents looking at alternative approaches to education.
      I was lucky that I lived in a house of books…

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      • Same… my parents had wide-reaching interests and I think I got more of an education from their huge collection of books than I did at any school.

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  4. So sorry that you had such a duff school experience that it has left you this sad, so long after. I think I would like to add that home ed is not always the answer either, but listening to your children always is.
    My kids have done Steiner, mainstream and home ed – all at times when it suited them/ us. My eldest has moved out to study massage/ comp therapy part time, while supporting herself with bar work and lives in a housing co-op. My middly is now just about to start art college and the youngest just started secondary school. And you know what? If school doesn’t suit him (he’s dyspraxic/ dyslexic) then we’ll do something else 🙂

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    • It’s great to meet children who do thrive in school, and to meet parents who listen and are willing able to be flexible. Your three are very luck to have such a supportive mum 🙂

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  5. My little boy started school today and this post really made me think. He is happy at the moment, but he is a very quirky little boy and I do worry so much about him being picked on. Sorry you had a rubbish time at school.

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  6. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  September 5, 2016

    Well said. As a mum of two school going kids I see the pro and cons of school every day; I see what a huge difference a good teacher or classroom assistant can make to a child, but also the opposite. You are so right we all learn in different ways and sometimes I wish schools could be more flexible, but so much depends on the teachers.

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    • My sister and I both hated school and my mum still feels guilty about making us go, but I don’t think there was much option. What was good was that we had a happy home-life… and I used to go to my nan’s for lunch everyday, so I escaped the place for an hour or so… bliss. I think the important thing is to be there for your kids…. if you are thinking about it, you must be doing something right!!

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  7. I can very much identify with this and, judging from the haircuts and outfits in your photo, am of the same vintage as you. So much is made of the “social” aspect of school, but we’re not all the same and if you don’t quite fit it can be a miserable time.

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    • The photograph was probably taken in 1972… actually before I had come to dread school too much, although I don’t recall every really liking being there! I always read with interest about Farmgirl’s experiences of education, and really hope that she is now enjoying her learning.

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  8. I am so glad not to have children is school anymore. None of us fit in their box. I had been to 13 different schools by the time I graduated high school. I found only one to be pleasant and that was the year I lived with my grandparents. They made it so much more bearable. I would have liked something better for my children but we did all we could to make it palpable. They mostly learned at home on their own. We just kept buying books and going to the library to feel their hungry minds. We also taught them to question everything. I so feel for kids in school these days. You have such good points here and I heartily agree.

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    • You remind me of my love affair with libraries as a child. Within an easy walk we had a tiny library at the local community centre (I can even remember what it smelled like!). I can still remember the librarian – Mrs Midgeley – and how encouraging she was. I also recall the excitement when I reached the age of 12, I think, and I could have more than two tickets and take out up to eight books at a time. Around the same time a new big library opened, but that was four miles away – so I used to cycle over there regularly. You have really made me smile, jogging my memory about these wonderful places.

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      • Delighted to be of service. 🙂 The libraries I did mange to find in my travels saved us all. Books were my lifeline. I figured if I could feed my children enough of them, they could handle anything the world threw at them. We are all shameless, avid readers.

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  9. From around 4th grade to my senior year, I was bullied. Some years worse than others as children growing up often have “off” years where things are just awkward no matter what you do. I hate school, still do. I see pictures of parents showing off their kids going to school and think “I wonder if they’re bullied at school?” rather than being happy for the parents. Technology has made bullying a hidden problem due to encryption and anonymity. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back even if I could retain what I know now. Just wasn’t a good time for me and I could never really explain it to anyone and have them even half understand what I went through. School years adversely affected me in ways that linger even now and I ended school over 20 years ago.

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    • I was bullied at school too, and I also feel your continuing pain.
      What really saddens me is how many people are responding to this post with stories (here and on Facebook) of their misery in school. I just hope that all parents look out for issues with their children so that they can try to help… I’m sure you do with your daughter.
      However, it seems to me that we need some grass-roots change in our education systems. Clearly the formal schooling we have does not work for many individuals, so I really wonder why things don’t change…

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      • To be honest, the school system we have today was created in the mid-50’s and has continued since then. A tiered system where students are separated by “grade performance” so the smarter kids get better teachers than the not-so-smart kids. I was a recipient of the declining performance scale and ended high school close to the bottom tier of students. It wasn’t because I wasn’t intelligent, rather, a symptom of my struggles outside of the classroom. I received a 3.89 GPA on my Bachelors Degree due to me not having to deal with bullies all day long.

        Things aren’t changing because parents don’t seem to be as engaged with their kids education (generalization). I’m a thorn in the administrations side at my daughters school, and will continue to be as she moves up through the grades. Other parents have told me off saying that I’m causing problems for their kids, to which I respond “Now you’re paying attention.” Change starts with the parents, moves to the teachers, then finally the Administration. There are way more parents than teachers and Administrators combined.

        I’m a squeaky wheel that has yet to get an appropriate amount of oil.

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  10. You are so right about this 🙂
    I spent my school years in a haze of fright, despair, and depression, due to constant bullying, as I was one of those kids who was a bit of a loner, and so didn’t fit in and, although I actually always loved learning, school itself was the worst place I could have been put in to learn anything.

    The classes were far too big for any teacher, no matter how good they were, to keep an eye on everyone, and my life was made a living hell while being surrounded constantly with people who should have been able to stop it, but didn’t, or couldn’t.

    I spent 6 years, recently, with the Open University, gaining an honours degree, and every moment was a celebration of learning for me, as I was able to study at home, in my own time, and free from a society that has learned to judge everyone who has the slightest thing wrong with them.

    I just hope that, one day, children will have the option to learn in this way, too, if they want to 🙂

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    • I’m shocked at how many people are responding just like you to this post. Good grief, it’s astonishing that the country isn’t full of adults who are complete emotional wrecks and uneducated to boot. Time for new approaches to education, I think!

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      • I have to say that I blame most of my problems as a child at school to overcrowded classrooms, and a dearth of strong-minded teachers for most of it!

        But, nowadays, I think that, if each successive government didn’t immediately change the way that children should be educated, just to make their own mark on things, there would have been time to develop a more practical approach to education in this country.

        As it is, no sooner does a child learn one way, than it’s being changed again – how any teacher can do their best in such a shambles is beyond me, and I think today’s teachers deserve a medal for perseverence! Lol

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  11. Well said. Apart from a one year spell in an all girl grammar school before the forced comprehensive system I hated school. In the primary years it was dealing with separation anxiety from my mum, she had never left me with anyone. In the secondary years I was physically and mentally bullied.

    I have home schooled two of our older daughters and are currently home educating the two youngest still at home. My son aged 13 would hate school. Well done you for tackling your demons and attending the swimming pool X

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    • How brilliant that you are able to educate your children at home as that is clearly right for them. I hope they (and you) are having a wonderful time and that learning is a joy not a chore.

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  12. I have been thinking about this during my day, feeling so sorry for the school child you were, Ms Snail, and wondering how many children I missed …..I taught for many years and it strikes me now that there are two groups of children who hated being at school. The first group were obvious because they acted out much of the time. They did what they could to disrupt, as it seemed like their only way to have some control (albeit very negative) over their loathing and fear and inabilities. The second group are far less obvious. They cover their fear and misery by going into themselves. As teachers, unfortunately, we have to spend so much time with the first group that we often don’t even know that there may be others in the second group in our class.

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    • Sadly, it really is the children who make a fuss who get the attention. I’m sure that many of my teachers had no idea how miserable I was. I was painfully shy as a child and was never brave enough to do anything other than keep very quiet. As a very small girl I can remember wetting myself because I was too scared to ask to go to the toilet… and anyway, leaving a lesson for any reason was frowned upon. During my early years I didn’t have any particularly bad teachers, and some of them were inspiring, but the whole school situation simply did not suit me.
      When I finally got to sixth form (after a terrible time prior to that) I have a wonderful biology teacher who encouraged me to apply for university. She was called Miss Bray and I will be forever grateful for her encouragement and kindness to me. Without her I certainly would not be the person I am today.

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