When Your Child Is Failing In School

When you have a child, there are so many things that you have to do for them. When they are babies, they are essentially helpless. You have to feed them, dress them, bathe them, and wipe their butts. Then one day, when they turn 4 or 5, they head off to school. Now for the first time in their lives, they have to truly start learning to do things without you. 
Of course, your child is not totally left to fend for themselves. There are the teachers; and I will be the first one to say that they all do amazing jobs. They want your child be taken care of just as much as you do. Of course, with only one teacher and maybe one assistant per class of 30 students, it’s impossible for them to give your child the singular focus that you give them as a parent. So while they take on the task of teaching your little one things like reading, writing, math, science and everything else they’ll need to know to function in society, you will be left to wait and see what happens. Will your kid be an over-achiever, under-achiever, or just an Average Joe? 
I think, as parents, we really have no clue how our child is doing at school in the beginning. Your child may struggle a little, but then, doesn’t every child at first? So what if they stumble trying to read even the simplest words, or if their penmanship is a total mess. Don’t all kids start off like that? Why wouldn’t they? It’s the first time they’ve ever done it. 
You really have no idea what goes on in your kid’s classroom. Aside from one parent/teacher interview that is held a couple of months into the school year, your only source of information is a 6-year-old with a limited vocabulary and poor communication skills. But what else can you do? Become one of those annoying helicopter parents who calls and emails the teacher multiple times a day? So you opt to sit back and trust that your child will find their way. 
When my son first started coming home from school every day, the work load was minimal. Mostly, it was just a short little picture book to read, then write the title of the book in a log. As he made his way through the 2nd and 3rd grades, there was the occasional page of math questions, a picture to draw along with a couple of sentences to write for science or social studies. Of course, it was always a huge pain in the ass to get him to do it. You’d think he had to write a 40 page term paper the way he would whine about how much work it was. Getting him to do anything that wasn’t playing with his iPad became a nightly struggle. 
He was developing terrible work habits; opting to do his work sprawled out on the couch in front of the TV, rather than sitting up at the dining table. His mother and I did little to help correct this behavior. We both work full time jobs. After all the commuting, and picking our son up from his after-school destination, we’re lucky to get home by 7:00pm. At which point we have maybe 2 hours to make dinner, get him to take a shower, put on pajamas, brush his teeth and get in bed early enough to maybe leave us with an hour or so to relax by ourselves. Throw a larger than average amount of homework into that mess, and you think we’re going to waste time arguing with this stubborn kid over where he does it? Hell no! Let’s just get it done already! 
We observed, and were able to determine his strengths and weaknesses. We knew he struggled with reading, spelling, and his penmanship was atrocious. But he did excel in areas like math, Phys Ed, and was even a member of the school chess team. Despite his struggles, there was no cause for alarm. He finished in the range of a C/B average. He even got a couple of A’s. The provincial standardized testing done at the end of Grade 3 determined his skill level was right in the normal range. So my son wasn’t an overachiever, but I had no interest in pressuring him to be one, especially when he was still in elementary school. He was doing fine, and we let him enjoy the summer. 
Grade 4 started, and everything seemed fine. I noticed he was reading and writing a little better, and for about a month into the school year, I had no worries. Then one day, my wife got the phone call from the teacher…”Your son is failing.” 
Now when the teacher said failing, she’s talking about the fact that there had been two minor quizzes for the year so far, and our son did poorly on both. One was on naming all the Provinces and Territories of Canada, and the other was in Math. 
For the provinces quiz, he did so poorly that he didn’t even score high enough to get an “F”. I was shocked, but I could understand. There are adults who can’t name all the provinces of Canada. Then add the fact that he has to spell them too…I mean, how many adults can spell Saskatchewan? The math test though, I was a little upset about. Math is supposed to be his best subject, after all. Nevertheless, it was a sign that my wife and I were going to have to take a stricter approach to his schoolwork. 
…I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. 
The first rule we established was that the use of his iPad was going to be restricted during weekdays (Cue tantrum now). We wanted to restrict his iPad to be used on weekends only, but there was no way we could enforce that. For three hours after school, he stays at his cousins’ house, and they all have iPads. Better to let him have his, rather than risk fighting over sharing theirs. So we agreed that the iPad is put away at 6:00pm. He was throwing a fit about it all through that first night, but he seems to have accepted it as a hard and fast rule. 
While the iPad has been stowed for weeknights, we will still allow him to watch TV; but homework comes first. This is an easy rule to enforce when his homework is just 15 minutes of reading a book, but the nights when he brings home extra stuff, it could take more than an hour to complete. Even longer when you factor in all the time wasted by his whining about not wanting to do it. 
The final no-compromise rule we implemented is that the dining room table is the only officially sanctioned homework area. I was tired of seeing him doing detailed assignments with his workbook on his lap. Recently he had to do some Google research on my laptop to find a map of Canada that displayed all the physical and political regions of Canada (Whaaa?...) and colour them all in on a photocopied blank map. It took only 30 seconds of me watching him sitting on the couch fumbling with my laptop and his workbook for me to snap. “No more! All homework is at the dining table from now on!” I shouted. He got the message and sat with me at the table as we worked on it together for an hour. He was surprisingly well behaved this time, so hopefully the trend will continue. 
So what comes next is anyone’s guess. I’m not about to start labeling him a failure in the 4th grade. I just want him to learn and find out what he wants to be. Then I’ll do my best to help him go after what he wants. I got plenty of A’s in school, but they didn’t do me any good. I didn’t have any direction, and let other people choose my fate. I ended up at university majoring in a subject I didn’t like to get a career that I didn’t even want. I flunked out, and went out into the world with no idea what to do. It wasn’t until 20 years later until I discovered my passion for writing. I only wish I had discovered it 20 years sooner. It could have been my career right now instead of just a passionate hobby. 
But it’s not about me, my focus is my son. All any parent can do is take it day by day and deal with each problem as they come up. He had a slow start in Grade 3 too, but he made improvements. I don’t see why he won’t follow the same pattern this year. The more you’re in school, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you’ll do. I don’t want to instill this notion in him that we expect him to be the best at everything. Right now, I’d just like to see the amount of time spent doing his homework be greater than the amount of time spent complaining about it. 
Of course, there’s always the worry that the problem could be something bigger than just simple laziness. There have been moments when I’ve wondered if he has a learning disability. You constantly hear of the autism spectrum, ADHD, forms of dyslexia. All those buzzwords from the parenting blogs. Sure, it’s probably just parental overreacting, but I try to be mentally prepared for such a possibility. If he ultimately needs more help than I can provide, I’ll make sure he gets it from someone who can. 
My son might fail a test, but I’m not going to fail him.

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