It’s time to A.C.T.

Assess student performance at the mid-year mark by taking time to ACT: Accountability, Communication and Time Management

By: Mike Wood, Language Arts Teacher at North Gwinnett High School

I argue that the most difficult transition in a young person’s life is the jump from middle school to high school. The beginning of high school, although exciting, can be stressful emotionally, socially and academically. The hierarchy change, along with the rigor of high school and the advancement in responsibility, can truly affect these adolescents. For some of them, school has always been easy, and now it is not. For others, school has always been a challenge, and now it’s time to make adjustments and be serious about academics. Is school challenging because of a lack of effort or lack of skills? Class rankings, GPA, transcripts and resumes all become real! The most important choice we make as parents and teachers is to keep the conversation lines open to help our teenagers thrive.

As a public school educator for far too many years and a father of four daughters, my views expressed in this article will be twofold: advice for parents of high schoolers today, and selfishly, advice for the future when my daughters are at an age when their interest in dialogue about their life with my wife and I has substantially waned. I imagine this future to be true. However, the hope will always be for open communication. Presently, communication with my 9, 7, 4, and 2-year-old daughters comes easily. As their parents, my wife and I are the most important voices in their lives. Fast-forward 10 years and I’ll probably be referring back to this article! In order to ensure the success of our students, parents and teachers of high schoolers need to ACT: encourage accountability, create open communication and facilitate time management skills.

Communicate
As parents, we need to find a way to communicate and connect with the teenagers in our lives. Most teenagers are not known for being great conversationalists. How do we prevent “teenager” and “conversationalist” from being an oxymoron? What makes a great conversation? Common ground is one component. Parents, take time to read what your child is reading in language arts class and talk about it. Don’t just check the Parent Portal for the overall grade; ask your child what a specific assignment is about. Ask your child to teach you a concept or lesson. Especially if your son or daughter is struggling in school. My daughter received an S for citizenship two weeks straight in second grade. BOOM! Consequences. Conversation. What happened? All parents did this when kids were in elementary school. Why does it stop? Because we want our young adolescents to be mature and responsible, yes, but as parents we can still converse and hopefully get to the root of the problem if kids are having a difficult time in a subject area. And if they’re doing great in school — great! — still ask questions and have conversations.

Conversing about a problem or struggle in school does not mean a parent should take that struggle from his or her son or daughter. But if parents notice that their son or daughter is falling behind, they must find the cause. Is it from a lack of effort or not understanding the content? Lack of skills? This needs to be done before the mid-year point of the school year. All schools send out progress reports at key points in the semester: 6 and 12 weeks. If your child’s school emails them, check your junk mail! Do not just look at the overall grade, instead ask your child to explain what the assignments are that are missing or earned low grades. Students must be familiar with all late-work and make-up work policies of all of his or her teachers. (Hint: check the course syllabus distributed at the beginning of the year.)

If the student is going sideways by November, intervention needs to happen. Don’t wait until December; they may have already failed a class or two. In middle school, the half-way point is not stressed as much as the end of year. Ask them about missing work or if they need help in a subject. Sometimes consequences at home can provide the extrinsic means to get students back on track (if lack of effort is the issue).

Time Management
Is your child getting enough sleep? Are they too busy with extracurriculars? A job? Time management for the student is so important and a struggle for many. I teach so many procrastinators! Time management is important not only after school but during school! Prioritize time. Please know: A major shift has happened in public school education regarding homework. Teachers do not assign as much homework on a daily basis as in the previous generation. I would venture to say that many low grades or missing assignments are attributed to students not using time wisely in class and/or individual study time. Time management is a skill that needs to be reinforced on the home front.

Accountability
If parents fear it is not just low effort or time management issues, rather skill level, then parents definitely need to contact the teachers. But before we go down this route, stress to kids the idea of accountability. Teachers will contact parents if they reach out, but in the long run, having the student approach his or her teacher to talk builds that student-teacher relationship, fosters a safe environment to practice good communicating, and in the long run will produce a more confident student.

Students can be the ones to schedule times to get extra help with the teacher. Students can get tutoring. Emailing a teacher is the best possible way to communicate with most teachers. All emails should have been given to parents at orientation or open house, but the email addresses can also be found on school websites. If parents are worried and not getting answers from their teenagers, or getting 50 percent of the truth (Who am I kidding? I’m already getting false narratives from my fourth grader!) then definitely contact teachers. Parents can find out if their son or daughter needs extra assistance, tutoring, or the reasons behind missing work grades. Hopefully, during ninth grade year, students can move toward accountability without mom or dad’s intervention. This empowerment is best for all of us, and parents will be preparing their sons or daughters for 10th grade and, more importantly, for adulthood.

For those parents with upperclassmen, these students should be “taking care of business” in their academics. The finish line is near! The need to intervene in their academic career hopefully is moot. But if they are not succeeding, well, then ACT! I would add this note to all parents: The counselor’s office at the high school is a great resource. At this stage, credits and transcripts are significant. If your son or daughter is struggling and possibly losing a necessary credit to graduate in the next year (seniors, for example) then contact the counseling office. Counselors are readily available via email or through appointments to help parents with these situations.

We’re all in this together to help nurture the future. Advice and commentary are easily attainable for raising, teaching and supporting children in the primary years but, unfortunately, not for the high school years. We need parents, teachers, counselors and administrators all on one team to yield the best possible potential from our teenage youth. Don’t forget to ACT (Accountability, Communication, Time Management)!


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