"I don't want to be here."

I was visiting a school today. While waiting for the principal, some students (all boys) were sitting out for a detention. When one of the teachers asked a particularly agitated boy what he was there for, he named his misdemeanor, and then said, "Why do we have to be at school when we don't want to be here?"

It always takes me aback as a teacher to think that someone doesn't want to be at school. There are interesting things going on! There are kids your own age! You get regular breaks, and your day has structure! Darn it, it took me hours to plan the best lessons to engage you. It breaks my heart that you don't want to be here.

But, from a kid's point of view, does he have friends? Is the work accessible? Does he have some choice in what he is learning? Does he feel welcome, even when he does make noises or inappropriate comments? And, more importantly, what does he want to be doing instead?

More classes are using the inquiry method of teaching for part of the day, where kids get to explore a question or work on a project of their own choosing. It sounds unstructured, but teachers have a solid framework with built in accountability so that kids have guidance and direction to focus their questions and research. It provides interest and choice--much needed for many kids.

Another option, which cannot fit most classrooms, but does work if there is a resource room available, is using the child's interests as incentive to finish and participate in mandated schoolwork, but use the child's interests as a reward. These reward times are timed. For instance, one of my groups was keenly interested in "BeyBlades", so after 20 minutes of focused attention, they had 10 minutes of BeyBlade time. We were able to get the kids focused, accomplished some work, and behavior improved.

What works for you? What would your child rather be doing?

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