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Grades Don't Measure Self-Worth

January 13, 1994|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

The news your child's school sends you via the regular report card may be good or bad. Regardless, it is important for parents to respond in nurturing, constructive ways.

First, bear in mind something that is trite but true: Grades measure a child's performance in a subject; they do not measure the child's worth. An F in English does not make your child a bad person; it does mean, though, that he or she needs some help.

Children's self-esteem is deeply affected by their grades, whether or not they admit it. They need to hear that grades do not determine how lovable they are.

Look over the report card with your child and discuss each grade and class separately.

If it is a good grade, encourage your son or daughter to talk about what helped him or her to do so well. Are there study habits that could be applied to classes where the grade is not so pretty?

Many parents like to award money for good grades, but I think the practice tends to reduce learning to a dash for cash. Your child will deal with that more than enough later in life, so try some other rewards now.

For example, give the child another learning opportunity, such as a visit to the Griffith Park Observatory (they've got unbeatable hands-on gadgets) or the La Brea Tar Pits. Or consider giving a bookstore gift certificate.

Coping with poor grades, of course, is more difficult. My sense is that scolding and punishing generally do not work; they only add to the student's shame and are likely to make your child even more negative about the subject.

Instead, ask your child what he or she thinks the problem may be, then call the teacher for an additional diagnosis.

Once you spot the problem, don't just say, "Do better next time." You've got to show how to do better.

The teacher is your best source of strategies for improvement, but let the student offer some ideas, too.

Often the remedy is as simple as budgeting time more wisely, or remembering to write down due dates in a pocket calendar.

Tutoring is also helpful in some cases. See if the teacher is available. At some high schools, members of the honor society also offer free help. Older tutors can be found through the employment offices of nearby colleges and universities, but they can be expensive--$10 to $25 an hour in most cases.

As your child improves, it is helpful to monitor progress by contacting the teacher once a week. Most schools offer parents written reports, usually available through the counseling office. Calling the teacher may be easier, depending on the teacher's schedule and access to phones. Such contact lets you know which assignments are due when and can often help you catch grades before they fall.

Finally, if all other possible remedies fail, you may have to accept that perhaps your son or daughter can't do much better in a particular subject. To offset that, help him or her to discover and sharpen a talent or subject that comes more easily.

As an English teacher, I am frequently told by parents that a child is a gifted writer, destined for fame, even when it is all the child can do to form a coherent paragraph. Reality can be upsetting, but in the end, it is the best approach for your child's success.

Few children can do well in every subject, but by analyzing the report card wisely, you can help your child make his or her best effort.

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