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NU #024 - The 6 Un-Ignorable Reasons Why Boys Struggle in School.

This one’s for the boys.

If you have a son, you may be like thousands of other parents on the planet - you’re frustrated too as to why our boys struggle so much in school.

There are plenty of factors that contribute to this and the way I see it, most fall into the six categories that I will outline here.

With the current challenges that public education is facing, I don’t see how these obstacles are going to improve anytime soon without some serious game-planning. The rate of change will depend on the evolution of how we currently do business. This is our shared & collective responsibility.

I think this long-standing issue of “boys in trouble” is owed some new attention.Some of the factors that I will present here are not new or complex - and to me, that’s the troubling part. We’re not making any positive gains to move the needle. In fact, the situation in many cases is deteriorating even further.

So here are six big factors that are working against our boys.

The Teacher

A competent adult in the classroom is the “make or break” of any great student experience. Hands down, this is the difference maker. And, some teachers are just a terrible fit. They are not suited to the grade level and heck, they are perhaps not suited to the profession.

Here is what I have observed:

  • They are not engaged with kids on the level they should be. The relationships are not there.

  • Their personal performance standards are very low and as a result, they do the bare minimum. Nothing more. They are not prepared, nor do they care to be.

  • They have no willingness to invest in their own learning to improve. They blame everything on the kids & their parents.

  • They are not present, they are highly distracted and can’t wait for the day to end.

  • They have no idea (or interest) in connecting with a student who might have a complex learning profile. Their mindset is “not to be a social worker or to babysit'', but to teach. Learning about emotional regulation isn’t even on their radar.

  • They are happy to collect a good salary at the expense of little to no progress for their students.

This type of educator is highly dangerous to the boys in our care - especially if the student has had a terrible teacher two years in a row.

**Here’s another way to look at this: Have you ever been to a restaurant where the food has been excellent and the service has been terrible? We all have and usually, you can’t wait for the meal to be over. It's the same thing here. Except, the paying customer at the restaurant gets to leave and forget about the terrible waiter they had on that one night. Our boys have to deal with their "terrible service" day after day. They don’t have the luxury of paying the bill at the end of the meal and starting over the next day with someone different. Food for thought…

The Parent

The involvement & engagement from home is a critical factor. This is not new information. For some parents, they feel that their boy's struggles are the “school’s problem, not theirs”. Perhaps the parent’s personal school experience was a terrible one too and therefore, they do not value what this opportunity can bring. Parents are also exhausted and stressed for many other reasons and as a result, their level of involvement is sometimes a by-product of other life circumstances. For this parent, school is much more about providing child care for their boy - rather than providing a meaningful educational experience. In some cases, this parent can also have a reputation that “nothing will ever be good enough” and there will always be someone else to blame. There is no accountability, follow up or regular communication.

The Content, Curriculum & Activities Are Boring

This area is highly connected to the Teacher, but not exclusively. Our policy makers do hold some responsibility here too for our struggling boys. (ie - Curriculum Expectations that are outdated or irrelevant)

Let’s be real here. If our boys are “talked at” too much, they are going to struggle. If the activities revolve around worksheets and the same boring routines, they are going to check out. Many lessons lack depth, interest and stimulation. Boys need stimulating ideas and hands-on critical thinking tasks that are going to get them excited about learning. If the material has been downloaded from Teachers Pay Teachers, has been recycled & re-used for the past ten years and is not current, we have no chance of engaging our boys. They require interesting problems to solve & challenging stuff to build. Let’s teach them about how things work. Let’s help them to better understand how they learn best - as individuals. Let’s teach them about building a business, personal finance, cooking or why learning another language (of their choice) is never a bad idea. They require some autonomy and we owe it to them to find out what interests them.

If we revisit our restaurant / waiter / dining analogy from the first section … This would be like dining at a beautiful restaurant with a wonderful waiter but the food is terrible. Same idea.

If this is the case, why bother?

The Classroom is Totally Chaotic

Many classrooms today have way too many kids.

Let me clarify: too many kids in terms of numbers and too many kids in terms of their complex needs.

The physical spaces are not large enough for our boys and because they have nowhere to go, they figure out a way to get what they need. They roam, they walk, they take their time, they check out, etc…There’s no opportunity for quiet or privacy. The amount of interruptions are high. The lighting is terrible and the airflow is poor. The overstimulation and the distractions are never ending. Until we get real about how many students should be maxed out in each physical classroom, our boys will continue to be the ones paying the highest price.

Food, Rest & Sleep.

No big surprise here. Lack of nutrition and sleep are not helping our boys achieve any success.

We have kids who are not sleeping at all or kids who are sleeping too much. Their diets and nutrition are terrible. The consumption of processed foods is very high. There are way too many complex carbohydrates with very little protein or water. We have young brains that are not properly fuelled or rested. No wonder they can’t cope - let alone succeed. Their diets are lacking in Vitamin B & D, magnesium, potassium and omega 3 fatty acids. All of these nutrients contribute to controlling emotions, calm behavior, thinking clearly and filtering out the noise. Instead, we have kids who are always groggy, irritable and dysregulated. Their brains are crying for proper fuel and as a result, our boys will continue to be at a deficit. Many of these obstacles could be diminished with a bit more real food and proper sleep.

Lack of Physical Activity & Movement

This one grinds my gears because we’ve allowed it to happen. When I say “we”, I mean the adults: parents, teachers, admin & our government. All of us. We’ve tolerated the decline.

We’ve allowed quality physical education to become a thing of the past. Our boys are very sedentary and struggle immensely with any type of physical discomfort or exertion. I don’t have to explain the benefits of physical activity on cognition, attention and focus. The research here is plentiful.

Our boys do not have enough access to open spaces where they can run, climb, chase, catch, throw, etc… It pains me to see where this will lead to in the future. I imagine the cost (both physical & emotional) to be profound.


I am not suggesting that every school and every boy is struggling with these six factors. Not at all. I have seen many examples of schools, educators and parents doing everything right. And, due to these experiences the boys are thriving. It’s awesome to watch!

I am asking you to ponder if any of these resonate with a boy in your life. I bet some of this applies ( I am sure there are more…). This is especially true if you know of a kid who despises going to school.

What if we spent a bit more time changing one or two of these experiences for our boys? They wouldn’t continue to receive the “bad wrap” that they often carry. We could interrupt this pattern. As you can see from what I’ve written here, it’s not entirely their fault.

I hope you’ll take a few moments to consider what I’ve mentioned. It’s not easy to accept that a boy might have to deal with one or two of these categories while in school. I am especially worried about those young fellas who may be experiencing all six of these factors. Scary.

We have the ability to change a bit of their story. I’m rooting for them. I know you are too.

That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading.

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