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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

You Know What Really ‘Sucks’ About School?

By Peter DeWitt — August 28, 2015 4 min read
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The other day I overheard a mother talking about school. She was visiting a bake shop that I was in. As the customer began picking the delicious sweets out with her daughter right by her side, she began talking about the day her daughter has to go back to high school. Most times it is said with a tear because some parents cannot believe that their child is growing up...but not this time.

A friend with me cringed a bit because she was afraid I may chime in.

As the mother talked about the first day of school, with her daughter right next to her with ears wide open, she said it “sucked” because school started the day after Labor Day and not the Wednesday after Labor Day like the year before. Once again she looked around at other customers, asking, “Doesn’t that suck?” Apparently she wanted her daughter to have one more day off of school because the summer had not been long enough.

As I stood out of the way I began to think to myself,

You know what does suck?”

It’s the way we talk about school...

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the lazy days of summer like everyone else but lately it has really struck me how often people talk negatively about school. This mother’s negative comment was only one out of numerous times that school is spoken about as if it is a bad thing. Perhaps the luxury of being able to go to school, unlike other girls her age in other countries, is a bad thing. Perhaps, it’s better to spend days laying around a pool instead of getting an education.

Whenever the topic of school comes up in television shows, movies or on commercials, it seems as though everyone should dread going back to school. Where are the commercials and shows that portray education as something positive? Where do we have to go to find movies where school is something we should be fortunate enough to attend?

I know, I know...To Sir With Love, Stand and Deliver, Dead Poet’s Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus and the Freedom Writers. We can name 4 or 5 examples of movies that depict education as something worth striving for, even during times of hardship. But think of how many commercials, movies and television shows depict education as something that is horrible, with teachers who were are supposed to laugh at instead of teachers who are inspiring...much like the teachers I always worked with as a teacher or principal.

I think I’m a bit tired of not finding those moments of inspiration when we watch shows about school.

I have been very forthcoming in previous blogs about my less than stellar path in education. Being retained in 4th grade the year before my dad passed away, struggling throughout school to the point that I was a sub-sophomore in high school because I lacked the credits to be a full-fledged sophomore. I barely graduated 262 out of 266 from my high school class. Thank goodness that I had 4 people behind me on that list.

I dropped out of two community colleges before meeting a few great coaches and teachers who helped me turn my life and education around to go from a 1.7 to a 3.86. I think school is pretty awesome, especially since I was one who didn’t value it when I was young, and certainly struggled in it for many years.

I want kids to skip some of my steps, and be engaged. I want them to work with their teachers and not against them...and vice versa of course. I want all of us to talk about school without mentioning how it “sucks.”


Unfortunately it seems when we watch television and those back-to-school commercials come on our screens, we are supposed to be more concerned that our children have the right backpacks, with the right notebooks, and the name brand tablets or Smartphones.

Maybe we can talk about education after our children have the right sneakers that cost a fortune, and clothes with the right labels so they can fit in with the cool kids...even if that means acting less smart in the process because they don’t want their friends to think they like school.

Teachers do an amazing job walking in every day to battle the outside influences that prevent them from getting to the core of learning. They have to act with the techniques of an Oscar-Winning Actor; hug kids so tight that they forget an abusive household; engage and support their students by finding out about all of their interests, especially the ones who feel less than everyone else because they don’t have the right labels on their clothes and sneakers. Even though their parents work really, really hard, they prefer food on the table over the right labels on the shoes.

Perhaps we will have more students do well in school when we stop focusing so much on testing, and focus more on delivering images to students that actually support the need for a high quality education...instead of those images that make teachers and school the butt of all the jokes.

And perhaps the next time the mother walks into the shop, I will care less about being polite and keeping my mouth shut, and care more about telling her why we should be thankful that her daughter has a place to go and learn on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.