‘Tis the season for parent teacher conferences. The teacher starts: “So you know the grade is ____, so that is because….” And I think, “Wow, well this is sounding really good. My kid is killin’ it.” Or sometimes I’m thinking, “Well, this doesn’t sound good at all. My kid’s really being lazy here?”
But I don’t know the grade they speak of, so I ask. The teacher replies, “Don’t you check the online app?”
I ask, “Should I be? I figured you’d tell me right now if something is going so poorly that you need me to interfere. They’re not my grades.”
Then silence. Pause. Disbelief. After some thought, the teachers thank me for allowing them to do their jobs and allowing kids to get the grades they deserve. Sometimes, they have told me, “It’s time to interfere.” And I do.
But most often, the teachers are glad to hear that they are getting an accurate picture of what my child, their student, can do versus a picture of what their student can do with constant reminders from their mom.
I have worked in public schools for 18 years. I know as a parent that the best thing I can do to help my own kids at school is make them independent. Oh, the tears of the kindergartners who have never done anything without help. Oh, the rough start for the kids each new school year who are used to their parents doing everything for them.
I was at a basketball game the other night and all the parents were talking about an upcoming project that was due for their 6th graders. I asked what it was, as I hadn’t heard him talking about it and hadn’t seen anything. They said that they hadn’t either, but they had looked online and saw it was coming so they had encouraged their kid to get started. I said, “It’s not my project.” Shock from the parents. Do I not care what grade my kid gets? Oh, I sure do care what grade he gets, without help from me. They are his grades.
My gifted and talented 6th grade son in advanced math got a D on his report card this first quarter, along with a C and a bunch of B’s. His ability lever is definitely straight A’s. I didn’t check online once all quarter. I knew it probably wasn’t going to end well, as he never brought home a backpack for an entire quarter. I could’ve easily looked online, hounded him about what was due, created a huge relationship and connection around his laziness, delivered consequences based on his lack of effort…but those all would’ve been extrinsic motivators.
They’re not my grades.
I myself could’ve helped him and we could’ve gotten straight A’s. But I got my own grades, when I was in school. These were his grades. And I was glad that he was able to see if he could make it just by getting 100% on the tests. He couldn’t. I was able to see, after I looked when the report card came out, that teachers gave him a chance, sometimes even two, to turn in homework and assignments. He didn’t. He deserves the grades he got. Now, he will have a quarter of more check-ins from mom before I let him have at it on his own again next quarter. Eventually, he has to be intrinsically motivated to do well. Getting good grades to avoid consequences, or to get the latest iPhone or a car as a reward, are grades based on extrinsic motivation.
If you have to ask your kid, every night, after you looked online three times, if they have that project turned in or when they plan on studying for the upcoming test, your child is what we educators call cue dependent. We know they’re cue dependent because they need constant cuing at school to do anything. And so we educators know the grades they are getting are because of you, and not their ability. Teachers are seeing your combined grades.
Let them flail in middle school. It’s the prefect opportunity for them to see what will work, and what won’t. My freshman son got straight A’s this first year of high school. I never glanced online; I waited for the report card. Out of the 12 quarters of middle school, about ½ weren’t awesome. Even though with some reminders and cues from mom, it could’ve easily been 12 quarters of all A’s. But, they’re not my grades.
Now let me say, learning comes pretty easy for my kids. They don’t have any sort of delays or disabilities. But they’re normal kids; they want to do as little as possible in order to get the A. That makes them efficient. That makes them self-motivated, intrinsically desiring an A.
It’s time to rip the band-aid off. Your kid is their own person. Their grades are their own. Let them handle it, and quit emailing the teachers every day about the confusion over the grade not being in for the homework you and your child worked on the previous night. If you let your kid handle it on his own, the kid might have been listening when the teacher said that he wouldn’t be putting the grades in for a few days. But your kid just waits for you to handle it. No need to listen, you’ll send an email. Hover much?