Report Cards are a Test of Parenting Skills, not just Your Child’s Progress

It was the second last day of school when an irate mother stood in the hallways of our elementary school, confronting one of the best teachers I have ever met about his “lack of communication” with her. She was incensed that her daughter had received “Cs” in language arts and she hadn’t seen this coming. Why hadn’t he told her? The teacher calmly replied that the work had been going home throughout the year and didn’t she see for herself how her child was doing? The mother ignored this of course. It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her child’s fault. It was his. Blame the teacher.

The first thing everyone does when they look at a report card is to flip out when they see a grade or a comment they don’t like. Sometimes, as in the example above, the anger is directed at the teacher (foolish). Worse, sometimes it’s directed at the angry-woman-Manaschild (really foolish). I had an interview two parents of a wonderful little girl who had a B+ average, probably the highest average any child will get in elementary school nowadays. The grading system is different when we were growing up. We don’t give A’s when a child does the assigned work perfectly well. This is the provincial standard and an expectation of our students. A’s belong to children who function beyond the curriculum, who clearly bring more to their learning than necessary for that grade level.

This mother ranted and nearly yelled and cried, red-faced, accusing, at me and the other the classroom teacher. She was furious that her child wasn’t getting better grades. The whole time the little girl sat silently, witnessing her mother’s tirade. Wonderful motivation. Interesting how responsibility is never directed where it belongs – at the parents, the judges of the report cards. Why is this the case? Let me explain.

If you have a child in elementary school, being grades 1 – 8, your child needs great guidance in how to learn, when and how to do homework, learning the importance of learning and not just for the grades. You, the parent, are fully responsible for this. Yes you would think your child, by grade 6 or 7, would have a grasp on this and simply do the homework. If your child is reasonably mature, obedient to you and your rules, and if you have done your job well and your child has learned self-discipline and the importance of homework, your child will settle in and get the homework done every evening. If your child is immature, disobedient towards you and your rules, and if you have not done your job well and your child has not learned self-discipline and the importance of homework, then you will have to continue a highly structsuccessured homework routine in your household in order to get it done. Yes these are harsh words and yes, many of you need to read them.

Homework is a significant factor in getting good grades. It is a great way to establish communication between family and school. What better way to know what your child is learning in school than to examine nad participate in the homework? What better way to demonstrate your sincerity in assisting your child’s academic success than to supervise and help your child with homework? So what you’re tired? So what you’ve had a long day? So has your child.  That’s one reason why children are called a sacrifice. If you aren’t willing to make that sacrifice then don’t have kids. Now get on with it and help him/her get the homework done.

Some parents work two jobs and aren’t home to help their child with homework. This is very difficult. In that case your child might have an older sibling who can help him/her with homework. No? Then hire a teenager in your neighbourhood, or a kid from the local high school, to work with your child. They don’t cost much. Work out what you can pay, say, $10 an hour, or less if you’re lucky. It’s good work experience for a teenager’s resume and you have peace of mind knowing your child will get the work done.

teacherThe teacher does her or his job – material gathering, lesson planning, teaching, classroom management (that means telling your child to settle down and pay attention and yes, your child is one of the disruptive ones now and then), grading papers and projects, supervising work groups, communicating with you whenever there are concerns on either your part or the teacher’s, attending professional workshops to keep skills current, enrolling in further university degrees to increase knowledge, and much more. Full load, right? And so it should be. That’s our job. Your job is to raise your child. Along with that responsibility comes teaching your child how to be in school and how to manage homework. Before you get the “dreaded” report card in your hands and start spewing fire at the school, the teacher, and your child, consider these tips:

  1. Have ongoing communication with your child’s teacher about his or her success. If you have concerns about a particular subject, behaviour, bullying, family issues that could be affecting learning, anything else that affects your child at school and at home, it is YOUR responsibility to take control over the situation. The teacher doesn’t know if you just lost your job or there is a sick person in the family. These are serious issues that are affecting you and therefore your child. Does that affect learning? You bet it does.
  2. Establish a homework routine for your child. This video deals with high school but is applicable to children in all grades. Every day after school your child needs ME time to recuperate from a long day of listening and learning, just like you do after a long day at work. Let your child play video games, go outside, visit a friend, have a snack, etc. After there is at least an hour’s break get the homework started and if you’re lucky, it might even get finished. Depending on the amount your child has, it might not. It might have to be broken into sections where some homework is done before dinner and some is done afterward. This is perfectly acceptable.
  3. Are you having difficulty establishing a homework routine? Search for ideas on Youtube, ask the classroom teacher for ideas, chat with your friends and see what they do at home. You’re not in this alone, including at home. Whatever you do, do not make rewards an incentive for homework completion. Homework is a given in the household, just as picking up the clothes off the floor, making the bed and going to bed on time. Negotiation about when homework will be done and who will help your child is fine. Rewards for doing homework is not. Try these ideas:
    don’t do homework in the bedroom or in front of the TV. designate a special area for homework, complete with a table or desk and table lamp, as well as needed school supplies.
    – have a minute timer or a regular clock on your child’s desk. Set the timer by short intervals for young children. They will need a break probably every 10 minutes. Longer work periods and fewer breaks is okay for older kids.
    – go through the homework with your child to determine what your child understands and what s/he is finding difficult. Sit with your child for the difficult work and assist him/her. If you are the impatient type, do your child a favour and skip this step. Find someone else to help your child with homework.
    lay out the required work in front of your child. Place a math book, and a language arts book on the table/desk. Open the books to the homework and discuss the length of the work with the child. Make sure your child has a visual reference and knows when s/he is done. The visual can be helpful in maintaining focus. Simply thinking “I have homework” is too abstract for some children.
  4. Consider acceptinbooksg help from the school social worker. You might be in a difficult situation where parenting your child on your own, or with a partner, is challenging. This can happen for many reasons, none of which may be “your fault.” There could be issues in your child’s character that are beyond your control and are seriously affecting both his/her school success and sense of well-being. We don’t want to place blame. We  don’t look for reasons to think you are a bad parent, even though we know that’s what is worrying you. We want to help you get your family on track so your child can succeed at school. Social services are a vital service and exist because they are necessary. The social worker is there for you. Use him/her.
  5. Contact the teacher if you have concerns about the amount of homework your child is doing. If your child is completing more than a half hour an evening from grades 1 – 2, that is too much. From grades 3 – 4 about 45 minutes an evening is reasonable. The amount a child can handle increases by approximately 5 – 10 minutes per grade thereafter. School isn’t all about homework. If your child isn’t getting most of the work done at school you need to know why. There should be ample time to get most academic work done during the school day. Personally I’m not a fan of homework assignment for the sake of assigning homework. I send home whatever isn’t getting done in class or the work I can see the child is struggling with and needs to practice. For instance, multiplication tables are difficult to learn for grade 3 children. When a parent or sibling is willing to drill the child and make it into a game, that is very helpful for the child in learning answers.
  6. Boy-ReadingContact the administrator if you have serious issues with the teacher. If the teacher isn’t responsive to your phone calls and notes, if your child is telling you s/he feels intimidated by the teacher and isn’t willing to ask for help. First start with the classroom teacher. Don’t accuse and yell. You’d be surprised how often your child is lying to you because s/he has been put on the spot at home about a poor grade. You’d be surprised how often your child refuses to utilize classroom time to its fullest even when you and the teacher are communicating about his/her learning  behaviour. If you don’t like what you are hearing from the teacher, by all means, speak to the principal.

We are a partnership – child, parents, school community and teachers. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to educate a child. Your child is one of the many in our village. We want to help you. We want your child to succeed. We want your child to feel good about him/herself, learn social skills and teamwork, and take pride in his/her school accomplishments, in other words to build a solid character in the community. Along with academic achievement, this is the main point of being in school. And when that happens, there are no “nasty” surprises on the report card; when it doesn’t happen, rest assured there is no one to point fingers at except yourself.





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