Give It Some Time

Sam’s totally not ironic first day of school picture

“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.” -Seth Godin

When I asked my son Sam about his first day of kindergarten a few weeks ago, his response literally made me gasp: “That was boring. What was the point of that?”

My wife Andrea, also a teacher, was mortified. We gave it another day. The next day was worse. And the following day was even worse. By the end of the first week, Sam’s tone had changed from “School is boring” to “I hate school and I don’t ever want to go again.”

This posed a problem, considering Sam had at least another 12 years of formal schooling ahead of him. Worse, he’s generally a happy kid who loves to learn and relishes new experiences. Now, he was visibly down and anxious.

We were on the edge of panic, but before doing anything drastic like calling a meeting with the principal or switching schools, Andrea and I started asking around to friends and colleagues with older kids who had been through this. I even called my mom, who had removed me from Kindergarten after a teacher verbally assaulted me for drawing an apple on the wrong side of the paper (to this day I’m afraid to draw in public).

Everyone had the same advice: Give it some time.

Coincidentally, I’m having similar conversations with current students struggling with AP classes and former students having a tough time during their first semester in college. “It’s just too hard,” they say. “I don’t think I have what it takes.”

Oftentimes, our biggest challenge is knowing when to quit – and there certainly are times to do that. But our students, like Sam, don’t need a free pass to quit whenever things get difficult; rather, we need to truly listen to them, ask probing questions, and help them work through their concerns. Although sometimes quitting is the best option, it’s rarely the only option, and we must avoid kids building a habit of giving up at precisely the moment they need to push through.

I’m happy to report that Sam is now enjoying Kindergarten (especially drawing), and some of those students who initially wanted to bail on an AP course are starting to catch on. Many are even enjoying the challenge.

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