Middle school requires much more initiative in taking responsibility than Connor exhibits at this point. His obligations go beyond doing the work, to tracking the work. This involves recording assignments and making a plan for pacing himself and prioritizing. Sometimes his weakness involves understanding what needs to be done. Sometimes it means he fails to record the assignment. Sometimes it means he fails to bring home progress notes and worksheets.
This has meant that I've needed to exert myself to get a meta-sense of what his assignments are so that I can backstop him. This also means I need help from the teachers, and I'm finding there's a curious reluctance.
I can't blame their reluctance I guess. I'm reluctant myself. As I said organization is not my strength and sometimes I feel bedeviled by trying to parse out the details of his obligations. And I'm not clear if it is reasonable that I ask that the teachers stay current with their blogs and posting their assignments. I've gotten the impression that they believe the child should be responsible for recording what they need to do in their planners and the blog is only a last resort (which means they may or may not post). However, I've noticed that Connor seems to do best in the classes where the teachers stay current and consistent in posting on the blogs.
This year is definitely better than last. He understands better what he needs to do. Technology helps as well. This year there's an internet innovation called Engrade where teachers record the results of his efforts. So I have a more real-time gauge of how he's doing. Last year in his social studies I had a miserable time with a teacher who didn't post his assignments or tests, didn't send home progress notes, and I was surprised by a failing grade at mid term. Then a lot of time was lost in his not responding to me about what Connor needed to do to bring this up. I was adamant this not happen again this year, since the same middle school team is in place. Engrade has helped me stay up-to-date with this particular classroom, and this particular teacher (who still doesn't post on the provided calendar the homework assignments and the dates of tests/quizzes).
Spanish was another problematic course last year, and so I introduced myself to his new Spanish teacher at Back to School Night in late September. She assured me that Connor had been focused and attentive in class. Then last week he brought home an access code that told me she was now recording on Engrade. I looked her up and saw that he's failing Spanish. It's 8 weeks into the trimester and I'm only finding out now.
Upon contacting her I find that he's continuing to be focused in class, but he's not turning in his homework. No, she won't accept his missing assignments. The best he can do is start doing the homework now. Even if he does perfectly from here on in he's probably going to get a low grade this trimester.
I checked her blog. There were no current assignments posted for the past 3 weeks. I emailed her and told her if she doesn't accept late assignments, could she let me know on the front end what his assignments are so that I can help him stay on track in doing them?
Unfortunately, I will not be able to tell you "on the front end" what his assignments are. Connor must take responsibility for his own homework completion. This includes writing his assignments in his agenda and completing them on time. This is basic organization that must be learned before he moves on to high school and college. We would be cheating Connor if we let you be his assistant - he must learn to do it for himself.
When I look at this and consider the implications this seems to be influenced by a philosophy of responsibility that doesn't leave many options. She seems to be a mouthpiece of this, saying, there is a basic organizational skill that Connor should be doing. He's not doing it. If I help him with it, or if you help him with it, he'll never learn it, even though he obviously hasn't learned it yet. If you help him you are enabling him by keeping him from experiencing the consequences of his lack of responsibility. He should fail, and experience the consequences of his failure. Then he'll be motivated to take responsibility next time.
This is an overt articulation of what I've sensed before as teacher reluctance when I notice that they haven't posted an assignment. But what if a child isn't intrinsically motivated by a love of the Spanish language to do well? What if he's only taking it because it's required? What if he doesn't care if he fails? If he fails because he doesn't care, does that motivate him to care and succeed next time? Is it appropriate parenting to let him hitch-hike on my caring, particularly if he's responsive when I know the assignments and influence him to do them? Or is it better to parent by punishing failure retrospectively? Does that motivate him to do better?
I sent the principal an email with three basic questions:
Is it reasonable for me to expect that a teacher inform me sooner if Connor is not doing his work?
Is it reasonable for me to request that the teachers post their assignments and tests so that I can backstop Conrad in keeping track of what his obligations are?
Is it appropriate to let him experience the consequences of his failure to organize—a failed grade in Spanish (and Humanities)? Certainly it would make life easier for me if I didn’t have to help him track this. Is there value in letting him fail in this sink or swim approach, at this age?
Any comments from you middle school parents or educators out there?