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EDUCATION: SMART RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS AND PARENTS
| FROM THE FRONT OF THE CLASS / CHRISTINE BARON

Lesson Plans, Homework for Parents

September 15, 1997|CHRISTINE BARON | Christine Baron, a high school English teacher, is the co-author of "What Did You Learn in School Today?" You may reach her at educ@latimes.com or (714) 966-4550

As the school year begins, I'm preparing the same pep talk I've given my high school English students for 25 years. To get a good grade in my class, you need to do three things: show up, turn in your work and put some time into that work.

Though the expectations are reasonable, nearly half of my students will not meet them. True, they are not honor students, but they are bright and fully capable of achieving. Nevertheless, they will miss class more than they should, set friends and jobs as a higher priority and turn in assignments late or not at all. In a nutshell, they'll just get by.

In some ways, this is one of the most frustrating situations for a teacher because these students could do so much more than just float through high school. If their grades ever slip to a D, they put it in gear and do what's needed to get back up to an acceptable level. The problem is, they've accepted a level that's simply too low. I know it, their parents know it, and most important, the kids know it too.

Can this all-too-common situation be turned around? For most students, the answer is an unqualified yes. But who's going to do it? Most students this age do not have the maturity or self-discipline to get tough on themselves. Teachers may try to motivate, but with five classes a day and some students who need extra attention, they are spread way too thin as it is. That leaves only the parents to solve the problem.

Many a mother or father has told me during a phone conference of being unsure just how much pressure to apply. Shouldn't young people be responsible for making their own choices? That sounds good, but it ignores the fact that teenagers routinely make bad choices that close off future options. Should 15-year-olds be in charge of decisions that will affect the rest of their lives? In many ways, a 15-year-old is still a kid.

We closely monitor our fifth-graders and don't hesitate to guide 12-year-olds' academic choices. But we let up on our teenagers too soon. True, staying on top of a sophomore's school achievement is more difficult, but raising kids has never been easy. With only three or four years of required schooling left, why abandon our role now?

Will high school students welcome increased involvement from their parents? Not a chance! However, if it becomes clear that parents are not going to sit back and watch their kids do mediocre work, adjustments will be made.

Teenagers can put up tremendous resistance, and parents may be tempted to give in to avoid the inevitable yelling and slammed doors. But continuing to insist on the academic standards that you know your child can meet may be more important in the long run than temporary tranquillity.

What are reasonable expectations for a healthy, intelligent high school student? Try these for starters:

* You do not miss class unless you are really sick.

* You complete your homework every night.

* You do not go out on a school night unless you can guarantee that you are prepared for the next day's classes.

* You limit your phone calls and TV watching.

* You turn in all assignments, complete and on time.

* You see that work and your social life do not interfere with your main job, which is school.

* You do what you know is necessary to get the highest grades you can.

Clearly these are not revolutionary suggestions, but enforcing them would be. Unless there are consequences, behavior will not change. To make sure your child is not skipping class, call the school and ask. To get a talkative teen off the phone, you may need to pull the plug. To be sure a paper is finished, you have to read it and watch it go into the backpack. To allow use of your car, you can insist on a B average.

That sort of enforcement takes vigilance, time and, more than anything else, energy. But the payoff could well be having our children graduate from high school with records that reflect their true abilities.

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