Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

School is almost done for the year. Finally. With five children, we have seen our share of report cards. Our youngest daughter is headed into her last year of high school, so we’re almost done with that stage.

When I was growing up, my parents paid me $5 for every A. That was all fine & dandy until I started struggling in math (even with my friend Howie helping me do my homework every night over the phone). When I brought home a report card with a B or C, I was accused of slacking off. When I brought home a D in Trigonometry, I got in trouble.

My kids are smarter than me in math, and none of them have brought home a D. But I don’t like labeling grades as “good” or “bad,” and don’t like the idea of discipline being used for grades.  Discipline is what you do when your three year old is throwing food at the table, or your 16-year old sneaks out at night.  Discipline implies punishment.

Grades are only an indicator.

We don’t punish our children for bringing home lower grades.  We try to discover the problem and address it appropriately.  When our oldest son’s grades started slipping because of ADHD, we used medication, a 504 plan, and extra homework help.  Our daughter’s falling math grade was due to rushing through the work to avoid having homework.  We made her bring the math book home every night and spend time going over the work.  She always found the mistakes she made rushing through and finally realized it took less time to do it right the first time.  Our youngest son’s problems occurred out of boredom because he already knew how to do the work they were doing and needed more challenging work.

More than discipline, poor grades are a sign that more frequent communication is needed, both with the child and with the teacher.  The more the teacher and parent can be in touch and in agreement over the child’s needs, the better it will be for the child.  Good kids can get bad grades—sometimes it is simply a bad teacher, a difficult class, or too many extracurricular activities.

Communication, balance, and requiring kids to do their homework nightly has helped us ensure that our kids are learning—not just reading and writing, but how to be good students.