Most of my older relatives, especially Grandma and Cousin Sylvia, often stated that, "There is no book that tells us how to raise children. We have to go by trial and error." They usually said that after Cousin Don, Cousin Alice or I had gotten into some trouble at school. I believe all parents wish at times there was an infallible book written about children and education, but Grandma was right.
I would like to offer three reminders that could be essential for parent-student consideration, especially if serious academic or social problems exist.
First, parents of struggling students absolutely must take charge of the circumstances surrounding a student who is disorganized. Many grades are not indicative of ability, but of assignments not turned in, directions not followed and lack of preparation before tests. If parents determine through teacher contact or their own observation that their child needs help, that help can turn negative circumstances around.
Strategies include a pre-set study time before every school day, a specific study location that is kept organized, polite but firm requests to look over graded papers, and constant monitoring of grades. Most teachers today put their assignments on the school's Web site, and all teachers are willing to respond to a request for missing work. It's very hard for parents to say, "You have a major assignment due tomorrow. May we look at it and offer help?" The result can be a firsthand observation of a student's strengths and needs, as well as an impetus to have the assignment ready.
Second, parents must do everything possible to have their child in school. A student who is struggling with concept A and misses school not only has to make up missed work from concept A, but will have difficulty understanding concept B. Also, presentations, discussions, experiments, etc., make up much more of learning in most classes than merely doing missed homework. I spoke to one mother whose daughter had missed the same morning class over and over. "Oh, that's her orthodontist appointment. We always schedule it the same time so her sister can drop her off on the way to school. It saves me a trip."
Third, parents who remember their own school days know that relationships with peers and adults can determine a student's attitude toward education. Continued alienation often leads to failure in the classroom, lack of involvement in co-curricular activities, negative behavior and truancy. Parents who can discuss social issues about teachers and other students have opened a very important line of communication; their nonjudgmental empathy and advice can help a child develop tolerance, patience and self-esteem.
Positive social interaction is so important, and problems are often misdiagnosed as "just a phase" that will go away on its own. The key to discussing school issues with children is remembering that what is heard is just as important as what is said. We all learn quickly to know when someone is hearing us without listening; one trademark is the quick, easy response. A student says he hates his teacher, and the non-listening responses can include statements such as, "You'll like the teacher after a while" or "The teacher is just trying to help you."
A parent who wants to face the issue might say, "Can you tell me why you feel that way?" and listen to the response carefully. If a social issue is serious and potentially damaging, a parent has the option of speaking to teachers, other parents and counselors.
The above suggestions certainly do not apply to every child. Some of my classmates had their homework totally organized and in ahead of time, and their lockers were organized. Some were adored by their teachers, invited to every birthday party and sleepover, elected to every office and crowned prom king or queen. However, the majority of students face issues that can affect their education and their future, and I have observed that involved parents can help them create solutions.
- Werner Anderson teaches English as Bishop Seabury Academy and has been an educator for more than 30 years.