Boys' Challenges & How to Help Them Overcome Them September 28, 2013 12:14

With over forty years of teaching, I have seen boys come and go. Fortunately, many of them keep in touch with me and they all have the same comment about the early years of school.  "It was awful!!!" 
When pinpointed as to why, the following are a few of the answers I have received:
1.  "They made me sit still all day long, and the only time I got to move was at recess and lunch."  (This was stated with anguish in their voices, because it brought back memories of painful days).
2.  "I knew I wasn't as smart as they were telling me, because in kindergarten I couldn't write like Alyson.  Her printing was perfect and mine looked horrible.  The teacher would reassure me, but I didn't believe her that I would get better.   I could shoot a basket, kick a ball, hit a baseball, but I couldn't print worth a darn. My printing is still illegible, but I at least can type now."
3. "My work was always put up on the board next to a girl's or Max's, and he had perfect penmanship. I could beat him at basketball, but not at drawing.  He always got compliments, and I always got the teacher saying,'Keep working at it, it will get easier.' I'm twenty-six now and the teacher lied.  It didn't get any easier."
4. "It wasn't until third grade, when I had you, that I really understood what was going on and why things weren't easy for me."

It amazed me how boys form opinions based on their personal observations, and that they don't hear a thing the teachers say.  

I'd like to share my perspective on what boys need to know about themselves and their growth pattern that will help them see how smart they really are.
When I meet with boys who are struggling with writing and completing work, or who have a poor self-esteem when it comes to academics, I ask them the following questions:
1.  "Do you feel smart?" Their replies are almost always, "No."
2.  "When did you decide your weren't smart?"  Some boys reply, "In kindergarten," while others reply, "In preschool."
2.  "What made you feel dumb?"  Generally the answer is connected to a point when they were asked to write something on paper with a pencil.
3.  "What about writing made you feel dumb?"  The most common response has been, "It was hard and it never looked as good as the other children's."  Those other children were usually girls. 
4.  "Did the other boys in the class have the same feeling about writing that you had?" The response to this questions was, "I don't know. They never said anything, and the teacher always complimented the girls' printing. I don't think they complimented the boys' writing."
5. "Do you know how I know that you are not dumb? Dumb people don't know they are dumb.  They are content doing whatever they do and never think another thing about it.  For you to feel dumb in preschool and kindergarten, shows you how smart you really are. It means that at an early age your were smart enough to be able to compare, and that takes brains.
6.  "Do you know the reason that you have a hard time with writing?" It's because you are really working with what I call 'puppy dog paws.'  Have you ever seen a puppy dog trying to control himself as he runs around?  He has a hard time, until he reaches full growth, and he has more control over his muscles. Then he can stop on a dime, but as a puppy, he'll run into things because he does't have that control.  Your body won't be fully grown until you are anywhere between thirteen and twenty-six.  It depends on your growth pattern. Until then, school will not be easy.  Writing will be difficult, so I recommend getting good at typing. School will be the hardest thing you do, until you become a full grown pup." 
I will often be stopped or visited by one of my boys when they reach full growth.  They will tell me that they are no longer a pup, but they have grown into their puppy-dog paws.  Michael stopped me in the halls one day and said, "Ms. O. I have finally grown into my paws and writing is easier.  It's so easy, I get can get my work done much faster, and I get to play basketball." He ended up being a great player, because as I had predicted, he grew to be 6'3" in eighth grade.  He is now in high school and having the best time of his life.  
7. "Was there ever another time when you felt dumb?"  "Yes, when the teacher put my work up on the wall next to an artist's.  Mine looked liked a baby's work and her's looked professional. Even when my mom and teachers told me my work was great and they were glad I did my best, I didn't believe them that it was great."
I asked the boys who answered with similar statements, "Would it be better if teachers asked permission to put your work on the board and where you would have felt comfortable placing it for public view?"  The answer was a resounding, "Yes."  One boy commented, "I would have put it next to Josh's, because his looked worse than mine."  Another boy stated, "I would never have put it up."  
I would encourage teachers to share this information with their boys, and realize they don't believe us when they themselves feel differently. Ever since this dialogue, I have asked the boys' permission to post their work.
I would encourage parents to ask the same questions of your boys and see if you get the same answers.  I'd love to hear their reponses.  If your boys feel the same way about having their work up on the board, even if it is their best effort, have them share their feelings with the teacher and opt out of having posted.  I am sure teachers will respect their feelings.  If not. email me and I will give you some ways of asking that will get the results you want. 
To my boys everywhere:  School is hard for most boys. Don't give up! it will get easier.