The classroom is a place where achievement changes lives forever. Learning subjects that weren’t even on the horizon for many students can be a new and exciting experience. Unfortunately, some parents and even some teachers rob students of that experience by making a fundamental mistake that is entirely avoidable.
Signs of the urge to rescue a student may first appear in parents but are contagious and could spread to the teacher as well. We want children to learn. We want school success. We all want to succeed in this whole education process. What to do when success is threatened is as important as any other skill we possess.
For parents, the urge to rescue begins with uncomfortable feelings while reviewing a progress report or grade card. Even though the grades belong to the student, the parent is uncomfortable. They may even express this discomfort to the student as a means of motivating a change. That would be a big mistake.
Saying things like, “I’m really sad to see these kinds of grades here,” or “I don’t like what I see on this test,” seems harmless enough. The feelings are real. The placement of responsibility is dangerous, however. These grades don’t belong to parents or to teachers. Feeling like a failure as a parent or a teacher is natural. This natural reaction is not where we want to remain or we will be tempted to rescue.
Dr. Charles Fay suggests asking your children how they feel about the grades. The grade belong to them, obviously. This simple shift of keeping the focus on the actual place of responsibility is essential to truly motivating students to learn. If they don’t have a problem, there will be little they can do to fix it.
All teachers love involved parents. But most teachers experience a little uncertainty in their gut as they see a parent approach with a child at grade card time. Often the question comes from the parent and sounds something like, “What can we do to bring these grades up?” We who? Is the teacher required to do something to rescue or is the parent asking how they can parent better so that bad grades never happen again? Neither focus is productive.
After learning how the child feels about his own grades, step two would involve recommending that the child explore how to change her own path to achieve a better outcome. If there is a conference, teachers and parents should expect the child to advocate for their own future to keep the motivation internal.
Don’t fall for providing “extra credit” for the poor decisions made last week. Even when a student approaches with, “Is there any way to bring this grade up?” the answer should probably be “No, but the next one can certainly improve!” Picking up trash in the classroom for 5 extra points on a quiz teaches a student that unrelated rescues are the way to solve past problems. Effort on the wrong task doesn’t improve the skills needed for the next test or the skills that will be needed to survive in college.
Thinking more about grades than progress is futile. The goal of improving grades occurs naturally when the process of learning, failing, adjusting habits and working harder are allowed to thrive. There is no need to rescue because missing the mark should naturally cause us to try again more carefully rather than repainting the target to surround the stray bullet hole.
Don’t rescue. Don’t move the goal. Work on the process so that the goal can be achieved next time.