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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and PhD's: An important lesson from middle school math
September 14, 2011 - 3:51am

For some unknown reason over the weekend, I felt compelled to check the electronic service that our school system uses for parents to access their children’s grades for each class. I’ve never used this before. But since my daughter just started middle school, I figured I should take a peek at this system, and I’m glad I did! I found that in fact her cumulative math grade was 42. 42% that is. Failing grade. A little panicked, I scrolled down through the assignments and realized that a big part of it was that she hadn’t handed in about half of them. Sunday morning I emailed the teacher with my concerns, telling her that I was worried: my daughter is extremely conscientious – I was sure she had done the work, and yet it was not showing up on her record: something was wrong.

The email I got back that afternoon from the teacher was gushing. “I’m so, so happy to work with conscientious parents like you who follow up on their children.” “You are welcome to contact me anytime” “I’m so glad to know you follow up so closely with your daughter”. But no, she didn’t have my daughter’s papers. She suggested that we look through my daughter’s binder, backpack, locker for the missing papers and said if we found them, she would accept them without a late penalty (this time). Although my daughter couldn’t imagine that they could be in her backpack, lo and behold, after spending much of Sunday afternoon hunting, we found all but three of the assignments, completed, and the next day my daughter took them in to her teacher. As a reward, the teacher gave her copies of the three worksheets my daughter wasn’t able to find and allowed her to redo them, also without penalty, along with regular homework assignment that evening.

Watching my daughter wade through four problem sets that night, I didn’t feel like a very good parent. This slog of extra work was the chaser to the rigorous and stressful re-organization of her backpack motivated by our assignment hunt. It was a tough, un-fun lesson to learn. She complied with everything admirably, if a little tearfully, as at first she pleaded with me not to go through her backpack – embarrassed, I think, that I would see her disorganization. I could tell she felt better and much more under control afterwards, but it came as a big hit to her that her grades could crash so swiftly and suddenly. She believed she was organized; after all, she did carry her daily planner around all year last year, as her teachers had required, and isn’t that what organization is all about? (The planner was always empty of any entries, I must add). This crash was a painful wakeup call that simply doing the work isn’t enough, just as crucial is keeping track of it; so we made a pact to work on this life skill together. It seems easy, but it takes thought and attention and practice. I’m sure there will be other related skills to master. (Heck, I could use some work on these skills myself.) In retrospect I’m dismayed that organizational skills weren’t emphasized and worked on more rigorously over those last few years last year in elementary school, and also that I also didn’t recognize this gap. Are we too busy getting through the academic curriculum to spend time on these “non-essentials”?


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