Challenger School

Louder Than Words


One week of school has come and gone for us. And my son still seems to like it.

Some children are more prone to liking school. My son, apparently, has not previously (from what I’ve been told) been one of the lucky ones.

Is it something in our genes? In our upbringing?

Whatever the case, there are some kids who like school and some kids who don’t. Sure, any child would probably rather be free-playing in their backyard or in their room than be learning math or language arts. If done correctly, learning is challenging and sometimes challenge is an un-fun place to be.

But hopefully, school will be engaging enough that our kids will stick with it all the way through high school and into college.

I love school. I loved school so much in fact that I would spend hours in front of my bed, with my easel chalkboard and some teacher’s editions that had been donated to me from my teacher aunt, instructing imaginary students on the ins and outs of academics. I can’t say I was a particularly good teacher back then. But I enjoyed school so much that I attempted to replicate it during my free play times.

I haven’t seen my son take this much of a liking to school. But he likes it. He enjoys going. The start of the week doesn’t bring a tidal wave of dread. I’ve heard about this happening and am thankful it is not the norm at our house.

I think our kids tell us a lot about their schooling experiences. While some of liking school may simply be luck of the draw, I know from years as a teacher and a principal that all student engagement is not pure luck. There are some teachers who can draw it out of kids better than other teachers.

Right now, I feel that things are going well for my son in his fifth grade class. Only a week has gone by and surely the work will get more challenging and maybe even frustrating. But I have hope that the teacher will find a way to “scaffold” the content such that school doesn’t become drudgery even though the work may at times be so. “Scaffolding” is a term that has been co-opted by educators and refers to the levels of support that a teacher puts in place to make sure that students can understand and master challenging material.

And then there’s good old-fashioned presentation skills. Does the teacher take the time necessary to ensure that lessons are well-organized and interesting? Do teachers attempt to help kids, especially those from diverse backgrounds, see the relevancy in what they learning?

I would contend that too often, teachers don’t do enough to engage their students. Which is why we might see kids who don’t want to go school every day. Sure, some kids will inevitably take to school more than others. But a good engaging teacher who understands how to communicate with young people in age-appropriate and compelling ways will go a long way to spark a reluctant learner.

So I will be watching my son carefully. I will be ensuring that he still likes to go to school…that he is still inspired to get up and attend daily. If this starts to wane, I know it will be time to march in and meet
with his teacher. Being an educator myself, I wouldn’t approach this meeting in a finger-pointing way. I would instead approach it with a problem-solving mindset (at least I hope I would). Together, the teacher and I should be able to figure out why school is no longer engaging my son and then figure out a plan for how to change this attitude toward schooling.

Our kids tell us a lot. Maybe not through words, but through actions. How many times have children come home from school and responded to the all-famous inquiry, “How was school today?” with the equally throw-away “Fine.”

“What did you do? What did you learn?”


These exchanges do little to provide parental insight into the goings-on of school. However, a student who loves going to school every day, or conversely, the one who doesn’t—well, those actions speak much louder than words.

About author

Dr. Jim Martin

Dr. Jim Martin

Jim Martin is a principal in the Salt Lake City School District and foster dad to two boys. He is graduate of Westminster College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education. He then went on to get a Masters degree in Teaching and Learning and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy. Jim has taught kindergarten, first, fourth, and fifth grades. This is his tenth year as a public school administrator. In his spare time, Jim loves theatre and has acted in over 30 productions. He is the artistic director of a local theatre company.

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