Peace in the Process

Last week, my son got a D- progress report that I received via e-mail with no warning.

If you know me (and/or my son) in real life, you might imagine that this was an incredibly shocking moment for me.  My son rarely gets a B in his academic classes and since the beginning of this calendar year, we’ve been closer, not more distant, so I was sure he would tell me if he was struggling.  In fact, we had just had a conversation about the class he got the D- in (English, which I used to teach) because he’s reading The Outsiders which I used to teach regularly. He hadn’t reported any issues, in fact, he commented that it was way easier that Twelfth Night, which he read at the end of the last quarter.  This is a class in which he got an A- in the first semester.

Given all this, my first reaction was understandably denial.  This seemed so out of the realm of possibility that I thought it was in error.  Then I was angry, at the teacher and my son for not informing me of the situation before being hit with the progress report.  I texted my son, logged onto powerschool, saw the culprit grades (a poor notebook check where he had a D in classwork and low F in homework) and texted him more to find out more information. I also e-mailed his teacher.

Then, I had to calm down.  I had an interview to conduct for my current research study and I had out-of-town family coming that afternoon, ironically to celebrate my son, whose birthday was at the end of the week.

My son arrived home and our relatives were at the house already.  I could tell that he was trying hard to keep it together and be pleasant while also looking sideways at me like, “How much trouble am I actually in once they leave?”

But, something miraculous happened, dear reader.

Once our relatives left, I talked to my son (sternly, but without yelling at him).  I had him take out the notebook rubric. He explained to me that one of the sheets was in his binder (not his notebook) but that he had lost one of the sheets and gotten half credit on a bunch of his homework because he had misunderstood the directions. Upon further probing, he said that the substitute had told them to take reading notes instead of annotations for one chapter and he had assumed (despite the fact that the prompt said “annotations” and he knows what annotations are) that he just needed to take notes for all the homework.  We walked through the other assignments that he got half or no credit for, found a few errors, but he acknowledged that the bulk of the responsibility was his.

I sighed. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed in him, and maybe a little in myself, but, I mean, what was there to do about what was done? Nothing. So, what could we do moving forward, working with the situation we had.

We reviewed the teacher’s policy on late work, and came up with a plan.  He would go in the next morning, apologize for the poor quality of his notebook (which was not his best effort), show his teacher the assignment that was in the notebook that hadn’t been checked off, ask if he could use a late pass for the assignment he did have but didn’t turn in, advocate for the miscalculated half credit on the homework, then he would do better.

He would not ask for an exception to any of the teacher’s policies, nor was I going to go and do it for him.  We talked about how this was an important lesson to figure out in 7th grade and how he had put himself in the tough position of having to pull his second semester grade up from a low start, a position he wasn’t at all used to.  We also talked about how this situation meant he needed to go beyond the minimum if he wanted to show that he wanted to improve.

His teacher was lovely.  Although she hadn’t contacted me prior to the progress report, she was responsive to my e-mail and generous (more than I expected) in terms of her willingness to let him turn in the entire notebook assignment in late (counting it as a single assignment rather than a conglomeration of smaller assignments) to be regraded.  I know my son, so her other offerings to help him work on organization and to help him focus in class by changing his seat were appreciated, but not necessary at this point.  The goal wasn’t to punish my son, but to do the things that would help him to best succeed in the future.

This is probably the biggest parenting win I have ever had.  That D- was an opportunity for me to prove to my son that what mattered more than a grade was who we needed to be in response to the disappointments in life, even and especially when we have some responsibility for them and can take action to address them.

It was not all a week of wins, but this was a big one, and it showed me that peace is possible in the process of parenting, even when you hit major bumps in the road, and there are always bumps with a toddler and a teenager in the house.

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