What To Do When The Grades Are Not Good
By Elaine Ernst Schneider
My mother has always stood staunchly by the saying, “The only thing a child learns from failure is how to fail.” I hate to admit it when Mom’s right – (don’t we all?) – but as a teacher and a mother, I think she has a point. When a child makes attempt after attempt to succeed in school and the bad grades just don’t go away, then the child is in danger of sinking further into that hole of low self-esteem. Don’t be surprised to find him afraid to try out for the ball team or the choir. A child reasons that because there is failure in one area, there will be failure in everything else attempted. Here are a few suggestions for boosting your child’s sense of survival and self-worth in the scholastic setting.
First, never ever tell your child that he or she is stupid or allow the child to say it. Always reinforce his or her ability to learn. Say things like, “Maybe you can’t put the information down on paper, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t know it.” Brag on her when she makes an observation that is correct in an incidental situation. For instance, you might say, “I’m so glad you noticed that street sign! I would have made the wrong turn. You are so smart and such a help to me.”
Second, if your child is in a school outside of the home, make a bond with the teacher. As a teacher, I know that an interested and concerned parent is a blessing. That means that the teacher and the parent become a team, with the parent being the home base of support. Meet with the teacher. Ask that your child be seated in the front of the room. Ask for advice on ways that you can help at home.
Communicate with your child’s teacher. Sometimes a child can carry a spiral notebook that the teacher can use to list homework assignments or write the parent a note. Other arrangements can be made where communication between the teacher and the parent is facilitated. I have a parent who asks me to call her answering machine the day before a test. I leave a short message that might go something like this: “Science test on Thursday. Study sheet is in her book bag.” Don’t make impossible demands on the teacher, like asking for detailed content information or keeping him or her on the phone for hours. This isn’t fair to the teacher or the other students in the class. Most teachers will work with you if you are reasonable.
If your child performs well in one area but shows a real lack of understanding in another, you might want to have him tested for a learning disability. Other factors to watch for are an unorganized notebook, lost homework, and fear of one certain subject area. Once a learning disability is detected, then you can begin to help your child with compensation skills. For instance, I have a child who cannot memorize phone numbers. She has a math learning disability. However, her language skills are above average. So, we have learned to use the strengths of language to support the math learning disability. To learn a phone number, we make up a rhyme, for instance, 438-3967 becomes: “GET, Mama’s 39, and Gramma is 67.”
Observe your child. No one knows him or her like you do! Try to determine if your child is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. See if information is processed best when she sees it or hears it. Or does he have to write it down for it to stick in his mind? The poor grades might simply be the result of an auditory child in a visual teacher’s classroom, a visual child in an auditory environment, or a child who learns by doing in a totally visual setting. If one of these is the case, the teacher and you might be able to find ways to compromise on teaching methods. Maybe the teacher can use an overhead projector for visual reinforcement of the auditory lesson. Perhaps the teacher will send home her teaching notes so that you can read them to your child orally if she learns best by hearing it.
Lastly, remember that while your child is young, you are his or her advocate. Go to the
teacher. If that doesn’t help, ask for a conference with a counselor or a principal. Don’t allow your child’s self-esteem to be diminished because of a lack of success in the classroom. You don’t want anyone or anything to take away the joy that learning is supposed to bring.
As children approach junior high, encourage them to go to the teacher for help – maybe meet with the teacher after school for tutoring. Self-advocacy is something that will serve your child well in future areas of growth and development. You don’t want him or her to learn to shrink away from problems. The idea of success is to face the difficulties life throws our way, get help if it is needed, and then latch on and don’t let go until you’re over the bump in the road. Plant that idea in your child’s mind early on. Mom was right – what you learn from failure is how to fail. But I’ll take it one step further: what you learn from success is how to succeed. Right, Mom?