Thursday, March 19, 2009

One Of THOSE Parents

Ainsley's school now has an electronic gradebook program (welcome to the 21st century at last, folks!) wherein parents can log on and periodically check their child's grades.

Doing this for a 1st grader? Ridiculous. Not having it.

And yet.

On the surface, if I don't know how my 1st grader is doing based on the papers that come home every day, I'm clearly not doing my job. It's easy now to know how she's doing; every day she comes home with finished worksheets and little tests and quizzes and I am generally smart enough to keep track in my head roughly where her grades are going to fall. Add to that the fact that when she's being a tool in class her teacher simply writes, "Ainsley was a tool today and didn't finish all her work" (not really, but that's not far off the mark of these notes) and no report card or progress report the kid ever gets is a shocker.

Well, until the one we got yesterday.

It started off a shocker in a good way. A very good way. I knew from her teacher that she was doing well, but I had guessed from her math papers that she might fall a little from the A- she got in math last quarter, and I had made peace with that. She takes after me in that numbers sometimes frustrate her. But my kid got straight A's in her core subjects and all E's (for excellent) in the non-graded areas like religion, science, and social studies.

Oh, joy! She started this quarter by testing both my and her teacher's patience, so I was thrilled that she had improved and far surpassed my expectations for non-toolery. I gave her a big hug, told her I was super-proud, and promised to reward her for her hard work. It was a good day to be a mom.

Then at dinner Jason noticed something I didn't.

At the very bottom of the report card are the slots for scores for the weekly "specials", including P.E., fine arts, and computer.

Somehow, I had overlooked the two N's (for Needs Improvement) in fine arts and computers. I think I saw the N's and thought "Not graded" or "Not applicable" or something. But Jason actually took the three milliseconds it takes to look over at the grading scale and realize something was amiss.

What the?

She got S's for Satisfactory in those subjects before, and she has the same teacher for both, and this teacher also does the drama club so I see her every Tuesday when I pick Ainsley up. How did I not learn my kid Needs Improvement before the report card came out?

Ainsley didn't even know why she got those grades. Usually, she's pretty up front about what she is or isn't doing in class. During her two week "let's try jumping ahead a decade and being a defiant 16-year-old instead of an innocent 1st-grader" stint in January, one of our after-school conversations went something like this:

"Ainsley, what did you get a ticket for at school today?"

"For not doing my work and for looking out the window."

"Why didn't you do your work?"

"I don't know."

"Really? Think about it."

"Um...I just didn't feel like it."

Well, there you go.

The N's seem to have her puzzled, so they have me puzzled, too. Oh, I can see why she would have gotten them. She loves to do art work, but she's a perfectionist who takes about 6 hours to color one picture. She loves to play on the computer, but she gets frustrated and gives up easily. I can see how, over the course of a nine-week quarter, this could add up to not getting a lot done.

What I can't see is how I didn't know this was coming in time to correct it.

Every time I feel myself starting to become one of THOSE parents that killed my spirit as a teacher, one of those who questions every lesson, every quiz question, every homework grade, and the very competence of the teacher, I think of two things:

1. By just listening to my kid complain, am I getting the full, unbiased story? (Heck, no. Kids are all about self-preservation.)

2. How would I have handled this situation as a teacher, and is this teacher just doing the same things I would have done?

So far, those things have kept me from sending a lot of passive-agressive emails and daily phone calls. I was (and still am, technically) a teacher. I am on their side until I have solid reason not to be.

Which is why I hate myself a little that I am angry over the N's.

It's not going to keep her from getting into the college of her choice, for crying out loud. And I have no doubt that she earned it. But what irks me to the core is that I didn't know. That I had to find out that my kid Needs Improvement in two areas with a report card when a note home a month ago would have had the same, but earlier, effect: letting me know my kid could do better.

Ains has been told to get her act together and to stop whatever she's doing that's bad and start doing whatever she needs to do to be better in those specials. I worked for about 30 minutes to type a polite, nonconfrontational email just asking the teacher what, exactly, Ainsley needs to improve on (I backspaced A LOT to get rid of snark.) And I actually opened the small envelope that came home last week with our password to access the online gradebook program so I can monitor my 6-year-old's grades.

Or not.

I don't know if this convinces me that I want to start that while she still has just one main teacher and dutifully brings her completed papers home every day. The day will come, I am sure. Most teachers here at the high-school level see parents' ability to view grades online as the best way to communicate student performance to parents.

Except for the evil that can be awakened when THOSE parents have that ability.

Those of you with kids: will you be a daily grade checker? And will you be one of THOSE parents?

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