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  • Wendy Taylor

Student Malaise: Contagious!

What is it with students and their parents these days? I just can't figure out how parents can be so blinded to the realities of what it's like to be a kid. Here's the thing: Several times lately, I've been contacted by a parent who says they've been checking their kid's grades online and they're not happy with the fact that the kid is earning 2's across the board. (Yes, you read that right. Children in grades K through 6 earn proficiency marks instead of letter grades.) The parent informs me that he or she has talked to the student, and the story is either that 1) I have lost numerous assignments and therefore, the grade is lower than it should be; or 2) the student doesn't understand things in class and is too afraid to ask for help. Of course, I have to respond in a positive, friendly, and professional manner, (when what I really want to say is, 'You have got to be kidding me. HOW is it possible that I have "lost" 8 assignments for just ONE kid?'). The other aspect at play here is that the parent doesn't know what goes on in class. He doesn't see his kid passing notes during instruction, playing with slime (the new fidget toy at our school) in his desk, and refusing to take notes or participate in discussions during instruction. He also doesn't realize that his child routinely comes to class without his textbook or even a pencil, and then laughs playfully when he tries to "borrow" from classmates. Of course the kid doesn't know what's going on in class! He's too busy entertaining himself with things that are way more fun than the rigor required to become a critical thinker. This idea that children never lie to their parents is one of the biggest hurdles to effective learning today. Children ROUTINELY lie if they figure out it will get them out of a bind. And when a parent is sternly asking what's going on at school to result in all these 2's....well, that's definitely a bind that the kid has to get out of. It's human nature to blame things on others. Most of us only learn not to do that when it doesn't work. When parents give credence to lame arguments like "I don't understand what's going on" and "I don't feel comfortable asking questions", children will continue to make those excuses and then dream up even more. Here's a quick guide to Parenting 101 (for a training a successful student):When you notice your child not performing up to your standards, ask the following questions - 1) What do you take to class with you every day? 2) Where do you keep your graded papers? And where do you keep your unfinished work that you know you need to still be working on? 3) When was the last time you raised your hand to ask a question or offer a thought in class? 4) How often do you check your own grades (and missing assignments) in the online grading program? And when was the last time you asked your teacher about a discrepancy in the grading system? If the conversation between parent and child ends when the child offers the excuse that he doesn't understand what's going on in class, there's something wrong with where the parent is placing the responsibility for learning. Then again, the parent is only following the example set by the principal of the school in the first place. Students have been off the hook for their own learning and achievement for at least a decade in American public schools. Just another example of 'unintended consequences' at work. When we made our schools a more 'comfortable' place to learn, we removed all incentives to succeed. Think: accommodations rather than achievement.

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