My daughter’s soccer team was already positioned across the field on picture day when we pulled up in our car. They were the first team up, meaning I had to crawl out of bed bright and early on a Saturday morning and suck my coffee through an IV just to be awake enough to get her there on time. We raced from the car and joined them. I handed my coffee to my daughter while I furiously filled out the paperwork the coach gave me while my daughter and the rest of her team lined up. And in the nick of time I was able to hand it to the photographers in exchange for my coffee cup.
I wasn’t the only one guzzling coffee and hiding tired eyes behind shades. Moms and dads held their coffee mugs and Starbucks to-go cups like buried treasure, sipping from them as if their lives depended on it. And all around me I could catch snippets of conversation.
Overheard next to me was a frustrated mom relaying the story of her son who was struggling in school.
“Do you want to grow up to be a mediocre person?” she quoted herself saying as she relayed the conversation she had with her son to another mother. “Because that’s what a “C” is – mediocre. How do you think you’re going to get into college?” She went on to lament the cost of tutoring and how asinine it was that they even dared to ask if she was going to continue it when her son’s grades were still failing. “It obviously isn’t working,” she stated angrily.
Something about this conversation made me furious. I’m not personally involved in the lives of this mom and her son, so I don’t know the struggles they’re going through in the day-to-day. But the conversation just didn’t seem right. If her son is already in tutoring and it wasn’t helping, it seems like there is an even bigger issue at hand – like the kid needs even more help or to have the workload eased up. To me, it seems that the worry over getting in to college should be less of a concern than the fact that he is currently drowning in his high school studies.
Perhaps he isn’t even ready for college yet. Or (and don’t throw things at me) perhaps going to a 4-year university isn’t really in the cards. It’s possible that the plans for college are more a dream of his parents and less a dream of his. And who’s to say a community college, trade school, or even an apprenticeship isn’t a better option to help him be successful later in life?
In my house, I wouldn’t say grades are unimportant. They are important. But I look more at the effort being made. Is my son doing his best work every day? Is my daughter studying so she can do well on her tests? Are they turning in all their work on time and performing to the best of their abilities? Then I am proud of them. When grade time comes around, I judge it by the efforts made and whether there has been improvement. I do not give money for great grades. I do not punish for bad grades. I put more emphasis on their efforts than a letter on a piece of paper. And if there is an area of concern, I talk with the teacher and see what I can do to help my child pull out of it.
I finally had to move out of earshot from this conversation, it bothered me so much. But it stuck with me throughout the rest of the day. I put it out there to some friends, and received several different opinions:
“Oh, that’s how I grew up!” Claudine said. “Not very helpful to a child. I would have asked the mother what she does to help her child.”
But Kari had a different view on it and was able to relate. “I get frustrated when I know my child’s abilities and I see the opposite,” she said. “I try to be there for her but I have to admit I get frustrated at times.”
“I am absolutely fine with a “c” if my child is doing his/her best,” Jeney said. “If I know they could do better, I’ll encourage them to do so, but if their best efforts produce a C? I’m thrilled!”
My aunt, a teacher, gave a heart-breaking story – one that isn’t so uncommon: “One of my students was having a hard time with a task yesterday and he started saying, “I’m a loser, I’m a loser!” It almost broke my heart. Where did he learn those words? One can only guess.”
And my friend “Stray” offered her sage wisdom over the subject of a “C-average” being considered mediocre: “I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, yes, judging too harshly and not trying to work with your children and help them excel is bad parenting…on the other hand, I see a lot of the opposite these days, where parents either ignore/forgive low grades, OR rant at the teachers for grading too harshly, bringing grading into the realm of the ‘participant’ awards handed out at games. Encouragement and love are important, but if a child isn’t putting their best foot forward, I see no problem with telling them that isn’t acceptable. And colleges? They don’t care about effort. They care about results. Yes, this child might need help or a different learning strategy to succeed, but let me tell you, when I was growing up, a ‘C’ was not acceptable…and I wouldn’t have been surprised to be asked a similar question by my own (very loving and supportive) mom.”
Bianca, a local mom here in Santa Rosa, was describing her own situation with her daughter and the struggles they’ve had in education. She finally took matters in her own hands and had her daughter repeat a year of school. And for the first time ever, her daughter is flourishing and loving school. “If you have a child who would benefit from repeating a year or needs additional support in class I want you to know this: Don’t give up, build a really good case, stick to your guns, trust yourself,” Bianca offered. “It has been the best decision I made for my child.”
It’s a passing grade, but it’s still not an “A” or a “B”. Would you consider a “C” mediocre? Or is a “C” completely acceptable?