6 October 2009 10:02 AM

Avoiding Surprises at Report Card Time

by Dr. Rick

I know, it’s just the beginning of the school year, and there are several weeks yet until the first report cards are distributed.  So, why worry?  But I’d argue that now is precisely the time to start letting your child know that you’re interested in those grades.  And that you’re going to be involved in ways he’s not seen up to now.


New year, new habits.


You’ve read it here many times and you’ve heard me say it in media interviews.  Despite protestations to the contrary, report cards are almost never a surprise to students.  They shouldn’t be a surprise to parents, either.  Kids are amazingly perceptive about what their grades are going to be.  Who knows better, after all, whether assignments are complete and turned in, tests are studied for, and notes taken in class?


Here are some friendly tips to avoid report card surprises.

  1. Commit.  Let your child know that you’ve set some new academic goals this year, too.  Just as he has.  And one of your most important goals is to be informed about his progress toward meeting his goals.  Yes, his goals are your goals.  The two of you are joined at the academic hip.  He’s going to have to get used to it.

  2. Set goals together.  Decide what goals you want to work toward together.  Agree on appropriate rewards for meeting and consequences for not meeting those goals.  If you come up with all of this together, everyone buys into the plan.  Plus, you’ll all learn negotiating skills and the importance of give-and-take.

  3. Ask questions.  Nightly.  Questions about the school day, assignments, progress toward special deadlines.  Any subject giving difficulty?  How’s the pace of instruction?  Getting assignments done and turned in?  Going to class?  Taking good notes?  Ask to see the notes from today, the first draft of the book report, the progress toward the social studies term paper.  You’ll get some eye-rolling at first, but eventually he’ll recognize that you’re serious about his success.

  4. Communicate.  Just as you’re communicating with your student every day, communicate occasionally with the school, with teachers, with guidance counselors, and with administrators if necessary.  Go to PTA meetings periodically, serve on the odd committee, chaperone a field trip from time to time, just to stay in touch with the school, other parents, and school activities.

  5. Ask more questions.  Your child isn’t “working up to his potential”?  Find out why.  Play detective.  You may know what his potential is, but teachers can judge only by the work he’s turned in.  All teachers can tell you of students who are oh-so-talented, according to their parents, but who have yet to turn in a single assignment.  Check out the friends, too.  Some “friends” aren’t worthy of the name.

  6. Behavior at school.  Is bad behavior getting in the way of success?  Is he bossy?  Does he listen to instructions?  Does he understand school rules?  Does he respect others?  Is he goofing off in class?

  7. What about your behavior?  Sometimes it’s difficult being the adult, but it has to be done.  Do you monitor TV, study, homework, computer and video-game time?  Are you a good role model when it comes to your own obligations?  Are you reliable, just as you want him to be?

  8. Routines.  Are you providing the routines necessary for success in school – specific times for study, homework, recreation, meals, sleeping, church, sports?  You’ve read my words and heard me say repeatedly – routines are necessary to provide structure, organization, and security to students.  Adults, too, by the way.

  9. Talk about responsibility.  Especially for older students – middle and high schoolers – it’s important for them to know that the independence they so desperately say they want will come only when they show the responsibility necessary for handling that independence.  Extra curfew time, for example, or a few extra spending bucks will come when those goals are met.

  10. Stay positive.  Another one of my favorite themes.  You’ll be tempted to retreat at times, when the tasks of goal-setting, monitoring, organizing, communicating, and friendly nagging all seem to get too much.  Give yourselves some down-time, some less serious experiences, some fun between just the two of you, without siblings.  Share interests and laughs.  These special times are equally special in your child’s growth and relationship with you.  Make the most of them.

Check out the other blogs I’ve written about success in school – setting goals, how to have a successful school year, taking notes, listening in class, avoiding distractions, studying with friends, and taking tests, for example, to name only a few – by clicking on Archive above.

14 September 2009 04:11 PM

Qualities of a Good Teacher

by Dr. Rick

As the new school year was gearing up recently, a reporter asked me what qualities I thought were necessary for a successful teaching career.  Any suggestions for new teachers?  As a forty-year teacher of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students, I can attest to a few traits that can serve teachers well.

  1. A love of kids.  Most days, anyway.  Some days you’ll love them more, some days less, but if you don't like spending your days with young people, teaching them, learning from them, and affecting their lives in ways you'll never suspect, then you're in the wrong profession.

  2. Patience.  Yes, your patience is tested every day, so you'll need to have an abundance of it.  Most of this patience-testing will be frustrating while it's occurring, but it'll make you smile later.

  3. Persistence.  You can't give up.  What's more important, and therefore deserving of persistence, than helping kids learn new information and skills?

  4. A sense of humor.  Every day you'll have a funny story to tell.  Guaranteed.  Over the years, I’ve accumulated so many funny stories I could write a book.  So could every teacher.

  5. A sense of urgency.  What you do is vital.  Kids, especially high schoolers, live their lives urgently, at fever pitch, and they need adults to guide, support, encourage, listen to, and occasionally nag them.  Be that special teacher who "reaches" a student and affects her life forever.

  6. A love of a particular subject matter.  My subject happens to be English, but it doesn't matter what your particular academic passion is.  Share your love for music, math, science, history, technology, the arts, or sports.  Kids love to learn new things, so introduce them to the things that make your life worthwhile.  Leave a legacy of learning.

  7. A feeling that what you do is a "mission."  If "affecting the future" doesn't count as a mission, I don't know what does.  The best, most successful teachers I’ve known over the years have that feeling, that special calling -- it's almost religious.  No, actually it is religious.

  8. A love of lifelong learning.  Help kids recognize that lifelong learning is as important to the mind as lifelong healthy habits are to the body.

  9. A love of challenge.  You'll have plenty of challenges, intellectual, physical, social, and interpersonal.  You’ll go to bed exhausted every night.  But you’ll have a sense of reward for a difficult job well done, making it easier to get up in the mornings, ready to face the next challenge.

  10. Job security, plus summers, too.  There will always be a need for good, dedicated teachers, especially in difficult areas with needy students and in certain academic disciplines like math, technology, foreign languages, and special education.  Plus, let’s face it, summer vacations are a main draw.  This is a great time to study, read up on your subject, re-charge your batteries, discover new talents and interests, or spend high-quality time with your own vacationing children.  You won't be paid, so you'll learn another important life skill -- budgeting during the year so you can enjoy summers!

For some more thoughts on this topic, see my blog post, The Most Important Profession.


And if you have special teachers you’d like to thank, reminisce about, or celebrate, share them with us.  Click on “Comments” below.

10 September 2009 03:51 PM

Month-by-Month Planning for a Successful Year Continued

by Dr. Rick

On Tuesday I went over planning tips for August through December of the school year. Now, I'll pick up where I left off...




Second chance for New Year’s resolutions. That’s the beauty of school: two chances to turn things around! Parents and students, review goals and needs. Need help? If so, get it.  Check the calendar with the long-range assignments. How are you doing? Parents, time for another backpack pop quiz.


Juniors, how’d you do on the PSATs and PLANs? They’re a good reflection of what the SAT and ACT will be like. Prep now if you have to.


This can be a difficult time of the school year. I call it the Winter Doldrums. Parents, encourage new hobbies, new interests to learn about. Keep up the daily conversations about school. Don’t settle for monosyllabic answers. This can be hard, but keep at it.




Parents, time for another grades review. Communicate with teachers again. In yet another reminder – as if we needed one – that time passes quickly, it’s not too early to start thinking about spring break, coming up next month. Students, what needs to be done before then? Parents, how can you help your kids stay on schedule?




If you’re a senior in high school, beware of “senior-itis.” It’s deadly. The end of the school year is near, but it’s not here yet. You’re understandably eager to get on with the next phase of your life. You’ve worked hard. You’re impatient. But there’s still much to be done. Ask your study buddy for support. Support your study buddy. Parents, watch for signs of senior-itis: impatience, lethargy, slackening of effort, eye-rolling when you ask about school. This is not the time to surrender.




Stick with it. Students, with your study buddy, review for finals and other end-of-year projects. Get ready. Get help if you need it. Parents, review your student’s grades, communicate with teachers. It’s not too early to talk about next year’s goals. Parents, meet your kids’ teachers for next year. Help your kids choose the right classes for next year.




Routines matter. Count on those routines you’ve established to help you through crunch time: exams, state tests, projects, school play, concerts, and other end-of-year events. Never forget that, important as academics are, extracurricular activities will form many of your unforgettable school memories. Enjoy the games, the plays, the concerts, the proms.  You’ll enjoy them even more if you’ve done your best with the academics. That’s all anyone can ask of you – your best. Only you will know whether you gave your best.


June and July


Summer. Have fun, students, but don’t allow your brains to turn to mush, either. Parents, encourage lots of exercise, fun, and indulging of interests that aren’t part of school. A little time reading, expanding the mind a bit, couldn’t hurt. Take advantage of getting some extra help in those difficult subjects, if necessary. A “leg up” for next school year can boost confidence. Let kids be kids in the summer, but remember “balance” is key.


Blog Posting Rules

This blog is for the good of education - for students, for teachers and for parents. I very much value a two-way communication with you and welcome and encourage your comments and feedback. However, to facilitate a constructive conversation that is beneficial to everyone in this online community, I expect the same respect in your comments that I present in my blog.

Read the full Dr. Rick Blog Posting Rules.