Dear Dr. Linda,

I’ve been a third-grade teacher for over 20 years and have never allowed my students to celebrate Valentine’s Day in my class. I know my colleagues think I’m mean, but I’m refusing to celebrate it for many reasons.

1) Children hand out cards to each other and there’s always some child left out or who gets very few; 2) Children are always asked to write a Valentine card during class for their mother and father. My mother and father died when I was young, so every year, creating those cards was like torture for me; 3) It’s a day of make-believe “love.” If you want to share the day with a loved one, it doesn’t have to be broadcast all over. All that does is make the person who doesn’t get the card or box of candy feel bad; and 4) I’m not wasting an entire day on this silly holiday.

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A good friend of mine thinks I’m 100 percent wrong. What’s your opinion?

Barbara

Dear Barbara,

I do understand where you’re coming from. Holidays can be a sad and stressful time for many people, especially if they have just lost a loved one or are separated from loved ones. It’s obviously a sad day for you. But the children in your class aren’t coming from your point of view.

For the most part, children like parties, and if they know that their friends in other classes are having a Valentine party and getting cards and probably cupcakes and candy—and they’re not—that’s sad, too.

Does this mean that you must celebrate every holiday that comes along? Of course not, but if most of the children in your school are going home on Valentine’s Day with a bag full of goodies and your students are not, then you must consider what will be “sadder” for them. Remember, school is a place where children learn many things, not only academics. Kids need to grow socially and emotionally as well as academically, in a safe place.

The good news is that you have the power to reduce the negatives. By now, you should know whether there are children in your class who have special circumstances, such as yours, where parents are absent. You can’t change that, but you can decide in advance how the instructions are given, such as having children who have alternative family situations make cards for those adults who are important to them. And you can control the card-giving part by making “rules” so that no child is left out (or asking other teacher friends how they’ve done it in the past). Some teachers manage this by having their classes suggest rules. You’ll be surprised at how many good suggestions will be presented. Kids are usually more attuned to what’s fair than adults—they’re creative and great problem solvers when given the opportunity.

School is not just a place where facts are crammed into brains so that students get high SAT scores or get into the best colleges. Its goal is to produce lifelong learners, problem solvers and creative thinkers. It’s a place where students learn perseverance and resilience. They learn how to respect each other’s opinions and lifestyles. School is an opportunity for students to learn and explore various subjects on their way to eventually finding lifestyles and lines of work that they enjoy.

So, you have a choice. You can harbor negative feelings about Valentine’s Day based on your own experience and project them onto your students or you can put a spin on the day that will bring fun and happiness into your classroom. I’ll bet you’ll bring fun and healing into your own heart, too.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dr. Linda is co-author of “Why Bad Grades Happen to Good Kids,” and director of Strong Learning Tutoring and SAT/ACT Test Prep. Send your questions to Linda@stronglearning.com.