If you follow my blog, you know that the first school I taught at is night-and-day from where I teach now. At my first school, the students came to school each day (usually escorted by one parent or both) with their backpacks, full to the brim with books and last night’s homework. While students were turning their homework in and putting their materials at their desks, parents would talk to me about homework, upcoming tests, and their students’ achievement. Students would also come up to me and candidly discuss homework and tests. I really related to these students because they were similar to me when I was a student…always the do-gooder type, trying to please my teachers and parents by doing my work, studying, and maintaining high grades. I could really relate to those kids and I love being able to relate to my students.
After a few years in that charter school, I decided to switch gears and teach in an urban under-performing school because I kept hearing the need for “great teachers” in those types of schools. Although I wouldn’t classify myself as “great” yet, I was trying to get there, and I would say that I am hard-working and passionate about the content I teach. And I felt that my passion for math and my compassion for the students in these dire neighborhoods would be all the motivation those students needed to achieve.
Ha. Yeah, right.
I realized quickly that I don’t relate to my urban students at all. Not only is there a huge difference culturally, there is a huge difference in academic mindset. I began to think to myself: Why didn’t these kids care about completing their homework? Why does an “F” not seem like that big of a deal?
I had a conversation with my mom, who was extremely involved in my education, about it. And in the middle of our conversation, a light bulb went off.
I was discussing my students’ first quarter grades with her. A majority of my students received F’s. This is not my proudest admittance as a teacher, because when my student earns an F, so do I. But a majority of my students received failing grades, which just boggled my mind. Do you want to hear something even more mind-boggling? Of all those failing grades, which there were many, do you know how many parents contacted me out of concern?
Two parents contacted me in the first 3 weeks after report cards were sent home. Whoa. Only two parents were concerned that their child received an F in a core subject class? That doesn’t add up.
And then another light bulb went off. Do students work hard to learn the material because they want to learn, or because their parents want and expect them to learn? Do half of my students’ parents even know that their child is failing their math class? Do they know and just don’t care? Is this why my students seem to lack concern?
Looking back, I’m not sure I would have worked as hard if my parents did not care as much as they did. They instilled in me my hard work ethic, I didn’t develop that on my own. If they hadn’t checked every homework assignment and asked to see test scores, would I have been the straight-A student I was, or would I have earned failing grades, too? I’m not sure, but my guess is no, I would not have been a great student.
In my dream world, students are born with an innate desire to learn and do well in school and don’t need parents’ expectations to lead them to greatness. And some kids are wired that way; but I think those special kids are the exception, not the rule. We need parents – the first teachers in children’s lives – to model the importance of hard work and good grades. If parents don’t care, students won’t care. If students don’t care, they won’t learn in the process.
So, this blog post is for parents: please care about your kids’ grades. Model for them that grades – the result of effort put into an assignment or assessment – matter, and when students work hard to earn good grades, they learn a great deal as a result. If parents don’t get involved, that achievement gap is only going to grow between the students whose parents care, and those who don’t.