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School Struggles

How to handle a not-so-stellar report card.


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November. It’s time for the first report cards of the school year. Are you ready? 

Report cards can be stressful for students and parents, especially if less-than-stellar marks arrive. Students may be disappointed, upset, or embarrassed by poor grades and comments. Parents may echo these feelings and also question why their child is not doing better. 

Know that these reports are not meant to cast judgment on a child’s intelligence or his academic potential. Instead, view report cards as a tool, as a way for teachers to let children and their parents know how they are progressing so far in the school year and what areas they may need to improve.

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD and co-author of the book, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, says, “Kids tend to see things as black and white. If they get a low grade they may think, ‘I am just not good at this subject.’ It is up to parents to help children get past the feeling that a lack of instant success means inevitable failure.”

Tess Fisher, a member of the National Tutoring Association, says, “Calls to tutoring centers always spike after report cards are handed out.” But Fisher says that prior to receiving report cards, there are usually warning signs that a child is struggling. Tests, quizzes, and corrected homework should be sent home regularly and provide parents with a sense of how the child is performing at school. Fisher explains, “If it is a fight getting your child to do homework every night or seems to be taking hours for them to complete their assignments, these are clues they are having trouble with the material.” 

Sharon Jones, a teacher in Millburn, says, “A teacher’s job is to keep parents abreast of progress/behavior, etc. The report card is merely the formal document on which to record a student’s progress. It should by not be the only form of communication.”

Set Realistic Goals 

Parents may get really upset and angry when their child gets low marks. They may feel that poor grades reflect on them as parents. Kennedy-Moore says, “Parents are scared and worry, ‘Will my child be okay?’ and ‘Am I doing enough to help them?’ Or, they may assume their child just isn’t trying.” 

It is important to be realistic about a child’s strengths and weaknesses as a student. Not every child is capable of achieving straight As, nor is every child able to grasp concepts as quickly as their peers. Some subjects or even units of a subject may come easier to a student than others. 

Parents should not get too bogged down by the actual letter or number “grade.” Use your child’s report card to gain insight into her performance and determine what is preventing your daughter from getting better grades. Does the child work hard? Does she complete her homework and other assignments on time? Does the child seem overwhelmed by her workload? Also, avoid comparing a child’s grades to those of his peers or siblings. Report cards are meant to access each individual child. Jen Foti, a teacher from New Providence, says, “Not every child is in the top 1 percent of her class. We want students to be encouraged to do their personal best, not have them feel discouraged because they are not the getting the highest grades in the class.” 

Talk With Your Child 

Rather than berate a child over poor grades, Kennedy-Moore suggests parents ask the child how they themselves feel about those grades. If a child is upset, try to find positives on the report card, be it behavioral or academic successes.

Brainstorm ways to improve the situation. Kennedy-Moore says, “The solution can be as simple as finding a new time of day to do homework or studying in a different room of the house that is less distracting to the child.” 

Some students may need a parent to sit with them when they are doing homework or help them to understand the concepts. Parents should provide encouragement and support, but they should never do a child’s homework for them. Some students may benefit from additional support from a tutor. 

Parents should be honest with their child about their expectations. Parents can’t expect a child to get a perfect grade on every test, but most children should be able to get a high grade on learning behaviors such as cooperating and displaying a positive attitude. Foti says, “Teachers really appreciate it when parents work on these values at home.”

Resist the urge to reward kids for good grades or punishing them for bad ones. Kennedy-Moore says, “Rewards undermine intrinsic motivation.”  So do your best to take the emphasis off getting good grades, and instead focus praise on effort rather than results. 

Work Together with the Teacher 

Parents and teachers need to work as a team. Michael Cohan, director of Professional Development and Instructional Issue for the New Jersey Teacher’s Association, says, “When I had my first conference with parents who were unhappy with their child’s progress, I always started by saying ‘You are your child’s most important teacher and I want us to be partners in her progress.’” Parents need to understand that most teachers truly love their jobs and care greatly about their students. They are not out to get their children and they want the children to do well and feel good about what they achieve through working hard. 

Jen Reilly, a kindergarten teacher from Summit, says, “One year, I had a challenging student and I had to write some honest comments on his report card. After his parents received his report card, they asked to meet with me. I thought they were going to let me have it and, instead, they thanked me for being honest and asked me to continue to give strategies for them to work on at home. I really admired these parents for wanting to be so proactive. He went on to have a great year in first grade.”

Randi Mazzella, a mother of three, is a freelance writer from Short Hills.

 

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