“I Don’t Want To Go To School!”

My #oneword for 2015 is uncomfortable, and this blog post is a challenging one to write because it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’m worried about how the comments might make me feel about my classroom practices, but I also feel like I need to hear these opinions. This is something that matters to me, and it’s something that bothers me a lot: student absences.

As many of you know, I moved schools this year. I actually moved back to teaching at a school not far from one of the first schools that I taught at in the Board, almost 14 years ago. Back then, I always had lots of students away. I taught Kindergarten, and my lowest number of absences was 30. One student was away for almost 100 days. These high numbers of absences weren’t unheard of at this school, and maybe in my first year of teaching, when I often felt like I was just trying to stay afloat, I never took these absences to heart. But I do now. And once again, my daily student absences are very high.

I know that there are many reasons that students are away.

  • Sometimes it’s illness.
  • Sometimes it’s a family emergency.
  • Sometimes it’s for a vacation.
  • Sometimes it’s a bereavement day.
  • Sometimes it’s weather-related.

But sometimes it’s because the child just doesn’t want to come to school, and it’s those times that keep me up at night. It’s those times that give me a lump in my throat and make me swallow back the tears. It’s those times that make me question, what can I do differently?

My problem is that I strongly believe that students should want to come to school. They should love their time there. School should be an exciting place to think, learn, problem solve, and “do.” I really try to work with the students to create this kind of school environment. If students articulate that they’re “bored,” then I listen to them. I try to find out more about what they mean, and what would make a difference for them. And then together, we try to make this difference. I know that I’m not perfect. I make mistakes daily, and I try to learn from these mistakes. But one area that I was confident that I wasn’t making a mistake in was creating an engaging classroom where students would want to be. Listening and observing the students each day make me believe that this is true. Is it true for everyone though? What about those students that aren’t coming?

This is not about all of those times when illnesses or extenuating circumstances keep children at home. It’s about those times when students say that they “just don’t want to come.” Those times happen — way more frequently than I’d like — and it makes me sad. And I want to be able to change things, but I don’t know what to change. I’ve asked these students to try and find out more information, but I’m not getting an explanation. So now I’m blogging in an attempt to look for some help.

This post is not about placing blame. It’s not about me trying to force students to come to school or question why they’re allowed to stay home. It’s about me trying to make positive changes so that they want to come. The bottom line is: I love school. I’m thrilled to get to come and teach every day, and I always have fun in the classroom. My students make me happy. Learning makes me happy. School makes me happy. School brings me joy. How do you help students experience this same joy? How do you respond if they aren’t? I’d love to hear from everybody on this topic! If you have a suggestion, I’ll listen. I know that high levels of absences aren’t uncommon at my school, but if there’s something I can do to change this, I want to make this change. What can I do? What would you do?


33 thoughts on ““I Don’t Want To Go To School!”

  1. Hi Aviva,

    I think that being passionate about what you are teaching, showing the students that you genuinely like them, care for them and are approachable, is key! If students feel safe, happy and engaged, then I think you are doing everything you can. Maybe some students are be dealing with challenges or issues such as anxiety, depression, perhaps problems at home, and/or social problems with peers? Or, maybe it’s just a case of personalities not clicking!
    Whatever the reason, I think as teachers we just need to do everything we can to help/understand the student and continue to strive not for perfection (we would be setting ourselves up for disappointment!) but rather strive to do our best!
    Good luck and thanks for a thoughtful post!
    Jennifer Shkopiak 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Jennifer! I think that the hard part for me is that I really thought that I was doing all of these things, but now I’m questioning how well I am if a student doesn’t “want to come to school.” How do I know if I could improve? How do I know in which areas to make the changes? These are the questions that I continue to think about …


  2. Aviva,

    I, too, get sad when students tell me they don’t want to come to school. When I was a student, school was always a safe place for me. It was a place where I could grow and thrive. Where I could be with friends and adults that wanted to help me grow. I recognized that it was a place I wanted to be. It saddens me that this is not a reality for many students attending our school. I really struggle to understand why. I think the reason I struggle is because I have never had to face the realities some of our students face. For some, they come to school with empty bellies. Some come from homes where education is not as much of a focus as it was for me growing up. Some students go home and are never asked questions like: “What did you learn today?” or “How was your day?” Teaching grade 8 has really opened my eyes up to this harsh reality. For some of my students, I am one of the few caring adults they have in their lives. In the students I teach, I sometimes see resistance and anger…and I ask myself, why? A friend said something to me that kind of stuck. I’m not sure how much weight it holds, but it’s a thought that’s been milling around my brain. Some kids never see themselves succeeding in life, so they give up trying. I know these students are very capable and could realize success in school. So, how can I show them that they have a future? How can I show them that I don’t give up on them? How can I relate to their realities, and make them feel confident enough to keep trying? I think this is a huge problem we have as a society. How do we create equity, when the realities our students face are anything but equitable? How do we give students equal opportunities to succeed, when our society is built on a foundation that does not allow everyone to be successful?

    I’m really inspired by the way you are embracing the word uncomfortable. I’m about to bring up a conversation that is really uncomfortable for many. In my short teaching career, I have taught many students who face severe mental health issues. I think it is appropriate to start this conversation as it is #BellLetsTalk Day. I saw this video the other day, and it really opened up a small window into what some of our students are facing.


    For many kids, getting out of bed isn’t an option. I don’t know how to help. I don’t know if there is a “right” thing to do. How do you engage a student, and make them feel confident enough to learn when they are facing this reality? I have a lot of questions and very few answers. I do know this; being a caring adult, showing warmth, allowing students to have dignity, and being open to conversation goes a long way. Maybe we should celebrate when these students do come to school. For them, it is a major accomplishment.

    – Frances

    • Wow Frances! You REALLY need to have a professional blog. This comment in itself is a post that needs to be published. It’s part of a conversation that needs to happen. If this is what’s stopping students from coming to school, how do we change this reality? I see everything that you do with inquiry and making learning meaningful, and I think that this is a great starting point. You’re honouring student voice. You’re showing them that their thoughts and opinions matter. You’re showing them what they can do, and how their work matters. And maybe you’re inspiring them as thinkers and learners to want to come back to school. And maybe, in some way, this is why I’m so sad. Because I really thought that I was creating this engaging environment for my Grade 1’s — and in some ways, I still think that I am — but is this enough?

      While the students and I get genuinely excited when classmates come to school that are regularly away, maybe we need to continue this celebration more. Maybe by celebrating that they’re here, and part of our “school family,” we’ll make them see how important it is that they do come back. Because we need them here, and we want them here, and we do miss them when they’re not. Coming to school is a major accomplishment — it’s the first step in the door for learning to happen (or at least school learning). And this is important learning.

      Thank you, Frances!

      P.S. Thanks for bringing up a very important, and timely, conversation. What a powerful video. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about!

  3. Well this post really got me thinking last night and this morning. Thanks Aviva for always having the courage to ask such difficult questions. I too have many student absences and I have often pondered…what else can I do besides giving my kids the most engaging, fun, exciting classroom experiences, where they feel cared for and welcomed? Just as you do…I see all the wonderful learning happening in your class. Can I be in grade one too? Lol! When my absent kids return to class, I always make a point of telling them that I missed them, that we ALL missed them. He or she may look at you blankly and may not even respond, but they have heard the message, they know that they are cared for…and they will take those words with them.

    • Thanks Josie for the comment and the kind words! While I always thought that I helped students feel like they mattered and that I cared that they were there, I really went out of my way to make this clear to them today. Maybe the key is developing that “family” feeling. We have a school pledge, and having moved schools, I didn’t know the words, and so I admit (guiltily) we haven’t been saying it in the classroom. Today, my amazing EA suggested getting a copy of the words. In it, there’s information about the “school family.” Maybe we can even look at how we’re a school family and what we can do to support each other. This could always been an inquiry in itself, and would have some great tie-ins to one of the Grade 1 Social Studies units on “roles and responsibilities.” I feel a new inquiry coming on. 🙂


  4. Aviva, this is a subject that is close to my heart. This is the first year that my daughter has gone to Junior Kindergarten; and she hates it. Its funny because to get her potty trained we threatened to take pre-school away from her; she was trained in a day. she loved pre-school. She talked about it all the time and always wanted to go. Now, she hates it. I am not too sure what has changed but she tells me everyday that she doesn’t want to go to school and its hard as a parent to deal with that. To be honest she is a lot happier if we keep her at home and do things there.

    Professionally, I think there is three things that contribute to kids wanting to be at school.

    1) The teacher:

    The teacher has the biggest role to play. If the classroom does not honour the student or what they are passionate about then the student will not want to come to school. The teacher has everything to do with this program. By the way I think you do a fantastic job of this. I think that any kid is lucky to be in your classroom. It provides, voice, choice and learning all in one. That being said, if children do not feel like they have a voice or what they are learning is worth their time, why bother. My daughter tells me all the time that she is bored or that she thinks her teacher doesn’t like her. Its hard to hear as a parent.

    2) Climate:

    This is one thing that we often over look as a teacher, what is the climate of your classroom and the school. Does your school promote being at school? Is it frowned upon to stay home or say that I don’t want to be at school? This sometimes takes a long time to change but it is a change that needs to happen. Is there things for each student at the school to do? This also goes a long with does the student feel excited about school? is this all they talk about? I know my daughter says nothing about the school climate, in fact they are not even part of it. The school has assemblies or spirit days and the kindergartens seem to be forgot. This maybe due to communication but it seems that there is nothing vested for her to learn.

    3) Parent views on education:

    Now this is the hardest to change. If in the past parents view education as a waste of time or something that has to be done then so will the children. Unfortunately children learn from their role models no matter what. Even if we are not looking they are learning. However, I think that if the first two are in place then this last one will be changed. When your child is excited to learn, you as a parent cannot help but be excited too.

    Being a parent now and having to be on the other side of the table has really made me think of what I do as a teacher. How are my parents feeling when I send home notes, how do they want communication to happen. These are all part making sure that students come to school. I think that as educators we have to think long and hard about our practise and how we are engaging students. What we did last year or even yesterday may not work today. Just some of my thoughts. Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jonathan! It makes me feel sad that your daughter dislikes school so much. Breaking down the reasons that this may be (not just in your child’s case, but in general), has helped give me more ideas. One thing that you mentioned under “Climate” is about each child feeling like he/she has a job/role to do. This made me think about Classroom Job Charts. Honestly, I don’t have one and never have had one. The other day though, I was at a planning meeting for an upcoming inservice, and one teacher explained how she made her job chart this year (with the students). They decided on the jobs. They assigned the roles, and they updated them as the year went on. While all students are helping out in keeping our classroom clean and organized, maybe having these jobs would make them realize how important they are. We can even talk about this. “If you’re not at school, who will do your job? What will the impact be on the class?” And of course, there will be times that people are away. There are LOTS of reasons to not be at school. But if students see that they have an important role to play, then maybe, they’ll be that much more determined to come. I also see some great Learning Skills tie-ins and Social Studies tie-ins with this Classroom Job project. Coupled with the idea that I connected to Josie’s comment, I think that I may now have a new plan for next week. Thank you! I’m very curious to hear what others have to say.


  5. Speaking of classroom jobs…everyday I have a morning message/letter to my kids when they come in. Every day there is a new “special helper.” This child gets to bring the attendance (chooses a friend), organizes the class Snuggle Bags, helps with clean up and general organization of the class. I usually make up the messages a week in advance so the children know when they will be the special helper. This is something that I did in Kindergarten and I just couldn’t let it go, because my kids are always SO excited to know that on Wednesday or Thursday they get to be the helper. I find this has really helped with kids being eager to come to school. They also get to take the chart home and it allows for a great self-esteem boost because it is something they can share with their families. This is the reason why I have not switched to the LCD projector or other technology for my morning message. I have heard my kids say, bursting with pride, “Tomorrow I’m the special helper!” I have a really good feeling he/she will be at school the next day.

    • Thanks for the reply, Josie! I used to do a special helper when I taught Kindergarten. I never really did this as much in Grade 1. I worry that for some of my students that are struggling with attendance, they may come on these helper days, but not on the other ones. That’s why I’m hoping to get them to see that they’re needed every day at school. I wonder if having students create their own classroom jobs, and giving everyone a role to play, would help. And maybe we can incorporate this into some shared writing/a morning message that could go home with different students each day. Then they see the value in being there, contributing, and sharing this exciting learning with their family. Thanks for giving me more to think about!


      • Thanks for giving me even more to think about and reflect on as well!!! As educators, I guess we always do a lot of self-reflecting, re-thinking, analyzing and wondering…

        • Thanks Josie! Yes, this reflection process is definitely so important. It’s nice to blog these reflections as a way to get feedback from others to make us think and even consider things that we might have been missing. Thanks for giving me so much to think about!


          • Hi Aviva:
            The student who doesn’t want to come to school can be a frustration. Knowing that you are wondering what you can do about this, once again reflects your excellence as a teacher.
            When I read your blog post and responses I thought about something we do in my room almost every week. We have class meetings to talk about issues in the classroom. At this meeting, monthlyjobs tare distributed in a fair way. It’s a great time for a teacher to be open and vulnerable or shall I use your word, “uncomfortable” with their students and receive feedback. Students set the agenda and run the meeting with imput from me.I often add to the agenda to get feedback. Students really value have a voice in the classroom.
            You could ask the kids “What do you like about school?” and “What do you not like?”.
            Answers would be voluntary (of course) but you still might gain some insight into any student that doesn’t want to be there.
            Hope this helps,

          • Thanks Herman for the comment and the suggestion! I’ve heard a lot about class meetings before, and Sue Dunlop (one of our Board’s superintendents) even speaks about “brags” and “drags,” as a way to celebrate the good things and look at what can be done about the not-so-good things. Class Meetings are not things that I’ve ever done regularly before, but with our move to creating new classroom roles and hopefully rotating them regularly, this could be a good time to do so. I think that I need to reconsider these meetings. Thanks for giving me more to think about.


  6. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug — off the record

  7. I too use class meetings. I think of the meetings as a way to give the children a sense of community & the opportunity to problem solve. It also gives them a voice and shows them I care about their thoughts & feelings. Check out a program called Tribes. It’s old but very useful in giving meeting guidelines.

    I have been following your tweets & blogs for only a short time, but I can see that your classes are anything but boring. I can’t imagine a child not wanting to be there. But of course, as mentioned in someone else’s comments we don’t know what family issues the child brings to class.
    This is where I offer a different perspective. As a child care worker, I see the struggles new parents have when children first begin daycare. The kids pick up those feelings and emotions. It’s difficult for a child who has separation anxiety to separate knowing his parents aren’t happy leaving him. Your children are older, but I mention this because I am wondering about the family perspective. if your parents are from another country they may have a different view of schools. They may be apprehensive about letting their children go.
    My mother never liked teachers when I was growing up. Recently she told me that she was never good at reading. I never saw her reading beyond a few things in the newspaper. I assumed it was because she was busy. Now I wonder if she had a learning disability. What educational background do your parents have? My point is all these things colour a parent’s view of school.
    So perhaps the direction to take is through the parent. & maybe this is something you can discuss at a staff meeting. Maybe the approach is to get to know your parents better through more fun social activities that are nonthreatening. IE breakfast with Santa, bbqs etc. Also showing learning with videos at parent meetings. You can do this! You are already very good at using visuals.
    Daycares are always proving the value of play based learning to parents. I generally find once a parent sees how much their child loves you, they generally love, trust and believe in you forever. I hope this helps. Good luck!

    • Thanks Donna for your comments and sharing some of your experiences! I’m actually very passionate about home/school connections, and try regularly to create this connection with parents. I call all parents every week (or every two weeks at most), email them every day, and even invite parents to join our class once a week (on Fridays) to learn and “play” with us. Overall, in the community in which I teach, it’s difficult to get parents into the school. I have talked to some other teachers about what might work, and maybe we need some more brainstorming time. I’ve also tried to connect with my parents and see if they have some suggestions. Many of my parents have English as their second language, so the use of interpreters, has also helped with connecting with them. Now you’ve given me more to think about.

      Thanks for also sharing your class meeting experiences! I’m definitely going to think about how to use these in the classroom. I know about Tribes, but I haven’t been trained in it before. I have a colleague that is though, so I’m going to connect with her and see what she can share.


      • Sounds like you are relentless. My thoughts towards parents came to me because it is such a costly inconvenience for parents to keep their children at home. As a result I see lots of sick kids who should be home in bed.
        I do see extreme cold temperatures as a reason given by many newcomers to Canada for absenteeism. It’s a hard one to convince parents that children do like to play in the snow. Try to celebrate even small increases in attendance when they come.

        • Thanks Donna! I do agree. I am VERY passionate about making these connections with parents, which is another reason that I guess I’m sad to hear that students don’t want to come to school.

          In the area where I teach, the majority of the students walk to school. On extreme cold weather days or days with lots of snow, students tend to be off because it’s too cold to walk the distance outside. Some parents also have babies in strollers, and it’s hard to push the strollers through the snow. These are real problems for sure. I just wish that I could help solve some of them.


  8. I forgot to add another activity we do in our room to start the day which you might find helpful. I have two small glass bowls at the front of the class. One of the bowls is full of stones, and another one is empty. At the beginning of the day, students who are carrying a personal burden, come up and put one or two stones in the empty bowl. Since we are in the separate school system we pray for any student who has put a stone in the bowl. Their burdens are kept silent but they know they are not alone. I got this idea from a great children’s novel by Jerry Spinelli called Stargirl. We also say personal petitions each day. It is a great way to know what is going on in a kid’s life. I hear about the sick relative, the dance competition that they could be nervous about, the pet that was put down, or the big hockey tournament etc… We spend about 6 hours with the children a day, but we usually don’t have any idea what happens to them when they leave.

    Some students only like one subject for example physical education. I try to include daily physical education (almost always a game of some sort) to start the day. This gives these kids something to look forward to.

    I also think posting a precise visual schedule of the day’s events is extremely important. I don’t like surprises, so knowing what a day is going to involve calms me. For many of my students, the first thing they do when entering the room is look at that schedule. It takes away the stress.

    Note to Francis. You definitely need a blog on your own. I can’t stop thinking about that video you posted and your thoughts about teaching Grade 8.

    • Thanks for sharing some more ideas, Herman! I like the stone bowl idea. We don’t pray at school, but this might be a good way for students to just silently let others know that something is bothering them (and that they’re not alone).

      I also have a really precise schedule on the board, with visuals to show what’s happening during the day. My students love this, and in fact, we often put up the schedule together at the end of the previous day. This helps the students prepare for the next day and get excited about the plans ahead.

      With some of our supports in place, we’re actually going to be beginning our day with a Phonemic Awareness Group rotation. This change starts next week, and based on aligning different schedules, it’s the only time that can work. I will try to do something exciting before the students rotate to get them interested in coming to school on-time. I just need to think of the details. With our Snack/Breakfast program, I need to make sure that the students get this eating time before beginning the rotation.

      Thanks for giving me more to think about!

      P.S. I totally agree with you about Frances! I’m very lucky to get to work and learn with her.

        • Thanks Herman! This would definitely make a great topic for a book. It’s been something that I’ve certainly been thinking about a lot this year. I was even tempted to offer Grade 1 Distance Education: if you’re at home, can you Skype or FaceTime in for my guided reading groups? I’ll provide the materials, but then I can at least work with the students in the small group setting to help teach them how to read. I’m certainly not against suggesting this option.


  9. If the cold is the problem for moms with little ones walking, is it possible to organize a walking school bus? Parents could take turns walking neighbourhood children so those with strollers wouldn’t need to take toddlers outside.

  10. In continuing the talk on metal health and school community, I think we need to also recognize that sometimes students are not the ones with mental health issues that are keeping them away from school. Sometimes parents are fighting their own battles in which they need their child’s help, or cannot rally themselves to get everything ready and get them out the door. In my short year and a half of teaching I have seen students who didn’t come to school as they had to “take care of” a parent. I have seen students who did not come to school as their parents had no money for food and they didn’t want the school to call CAS. I have seen children not come to school as parents are overwhelmed and it is easier to not fight with their children over coming to school. Instead they let them stay home. As well as making the school a family and having a safe and inviting atmosphere for students, we also need to remember that the family often shapes who the student is as well. How can we make schools safe for families to feel comfortable enough to ask for help when needed instead of being afraid? How can we make schools a hub of resources for families without judgment or stigma?

    • These are great questions, Heather! I’m not sure of the answers. Have you seen anything in schools that have helped with this? I think about our Board’s Positive Climate and Engagement Consultant. Maybe this person is the one to start with. What do you think?


      • Aviva,
        There has been a push this year, from what I have seen, to increase the parent engagement in schools. I know that the original report on FDK wanted the schools to be a community hub. I wish this was happening. Many of my colleagues have translated blogs and newsletters into other languages in order to better reach parents whose fort language may not be English. Some schools are offering family math nights and family literacy days to bring the parents into the school and create a community feeling while removing the fear some parents get from parent teacher meetings or other normal reasons for parents to visit schools. Recognizing that there are parents who may need help and allowing them to seek that help may require more social workers or a community liaison for different agencies. Not certain how it would work but I know that it is important to think about the whole child, including their family

        • This is an excellent point, Heather! I’m very committed to parent engagement, and I think that looking at parent needs as well as child ones is important. I wonder how to best do this. I wonder if parents might be able to share what they’d like (if they’d like something).


          • The only issue I have with that is that parents who answer the survey (or other means of asking their opinion) will often be the ones who are already engaged. I would love to see suggestions on how to overcome this. I do think that having blogs and twitter and electronic newsletters, etc. does allow parents who, for whatever reason, are not coming into the schools st least a better understanding of what their child is doing/learning. This will hopefully create conversations At home which may make parents more comfortable.

          • I can see that, Heather, but maybe this survey needs to be available in different ways. Maybe we need some paper copies, some ways to talk to parents (with phone calls for example), and some online options. Different people are engaged differently. I think we need to honour all of these differences (if we can).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *