Sometimes helping the kids navigate their school work feels like putting out dozens of tiny forest fires; as soon as you stamp one out, another one pops up a few feet away. I feel good about Zander agreeing to let me check his math homework and being willing to correct problems that are wrong, but then both kids forget to bring home the book they need to study for a test. I see improvement in spelling grades, but then one child or the other gets an F on an assignment in a class that wasn’t even on my radar to help them with. The work packets that come home at the end of each week are a schizophrenic mix of marks, ranging from 100s to failing grades. This week I was especially disheartened when I saw that Alexander had gotten a score of 25 (!) on a reading assignment — reading! Say it ain’t so! Not only was the assignment, which asked him to describe the main points of a book he had read, clearly incomplete (two sentences written on what should have been a full page), but the hand-writing was so horrendous, it was almost impossible to read. Ugh!
I wish I could say I’m not personally invested in their performance or that these grades don’t really matter. But the message I’m getting is that it does matter and that I do need to be involved and invested. Notes from the teachers warning parents of bad grades coming home in the work packets, and reminders that a few low scores on assignments will significantly impact the final grade for the quarter, send a clear signal that the kids need to be on their game for each and every assignment. Also, we were instructed at the beginning of the year to keep an eye on when the kids had tests (which is supposed to be written by them in their “planners”, but isn’t always) and to help them study.
Furthermore (and this is the tricky piece that makes me scratch my head and sigh in frustration), based on my children’s overall abilities (high standardized test scores, advanced reading levels), they should be more than capable of doing well on daily assignments and in-class tests. So what’s the missing piece? Is it lack of motivation? Are they hurrying? Do they still need to learn basic study skills and the concept of checking their work? Are they just not trying? And what, if anything, can I do to help?
I look into the future and see a long dark tunnel of struggling with school work, night after night, week after week. For eight more years. “Noooo….!!!” my soul screams soundlessly. Then, from time to time, I hear encouraging tales: the child who was recalcitrant, disorganized, disengaged, angry (fill in the adjective) about school work suddenly turns it around and starts to cruise through the academic world like nobody’s business. I know some of these kids and their parents well, so I know these are not just urban myths of Amazing-Child-Transformations. I’ve heard about the bad grades and homework frustrations and meetings with teachers. I’ve observed the different reactions and attitudes of the parents, too — from thinking their child might have a learning disability to railing against the teachers for giving too much homework. I know parents who have encouraged their kids to not give a damn about school requirements that they feel are meaningless and those who have anxiously bent over backwards to arrange extra help for their children. And all these kids are doing fine now — better than fine — in performance, attitude and spirit. These stories give me hope. But, still, it is a hard row to hoe (for me, at least), trying to walk the line of providing just the right amount of support and involvement in my children’s academic world. And sometimes I am jealous of parents with kids to whom things seem to come more easily. And sometimes I worry, what if things never turn around? But what can you do as a parent but hang in there and do your best to help your kids navigate their world? Appreciate the good and try not to get too freaked out by the not-so-good is my motto for now.