Teach students to advocate for themselves

I’ve responded to 8 parent emails over the past hour, responded to 5 more before I left school today, and have been fielding questions about student grades for the past two weeks. It’s that time of year. The semester is winding down and parents are wanted to ensure their child is going to pass my class.

This post isn’t to bemoan parents. I get it. I sent my own email today with a question for my son’s teacher. As a parent, we’re all just trying to figure out what is best for our children. It’s messy and there isn’t a guidebook on how to do this thing. Anyone who tells you they have parenting figured out, should share their secrets with the rest of us. In the meantime, barring any magic pixie dust that fixes all of our parenting woes, we are left to try to figure out how to help our kids be the best version of themselves and grow up to be responsible adults.

When the deadline of the end of the semester looms, parents panic. They see the last dwindling moments of possibility closing in on their child. To be fair, I know plenty of teachers (myself included) who finally start to get caught up on grading around this time of year. Yes, kids know what their grades are and should be able to share that with their parents, but they’re still adolescents and only listen to a fraction of what I say.

One things that’s been different this year is the number of student emails I’ve received. That’s because last week I tried something new. I emailed parents and asked them to have their child send the email. I asked them to sit with them and help them write an email to me. This is a trick I picked up coaching First Lego League robotics. At an FLL competition, the judges don’t talk to the adults. They talk to the kids. They’re polite about it, but if there is a question about the score or a problem with the board, they want the kids to have ownership of the discussion to solve it. That’s something I’m trying to help the parents of my students instill in their kids.

Here’s how I frame it. I want parents to help their kids write an email if they have a question. Then I tell them they can send me a follow up email if they wish and I’ll answer both emails. This helps parents pass the baton on to their kids, while still getting the full story, because, shocker, sometimes kids lie to get out of doing work. Parents want the full story before they have a nice long conversation about why an assignment wasn’t done. It’s always helpful when they can say things like “why didn’t you get this assignment done? You’ve had three weeks to work on it.”

Ultimately, I want to work with parents to help transition the responsibility of keeping track of grades from the parent to the student. I want to help them with that transition.

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