Parent-Teacher Conference Conundrum: Some Advice for Parents and Grades

Parent/Teacher conferences are next week, that special time of year when you speed through pleasantries, anecdotes, wins, defeats, concerns, challenges, and bright spots about your student’s school year. Conferences are where you get 15 minutes to talk about how your kids are doing in school so that you can ultimately make broad, sweeping assumptions about your parenting.

We’ve talked in the past about why we do conferences here at Liberty. While much of it may seem obvious, the deeper principle at work in our conferences is about the work we do together to make learning all that it can be for students. It’s a partnership. And at an academically challenging school like Liberty Classical, with the bar set high and with a competitive spirit among many of our students, the pressure to perform is real. 

So as you prepare to sit down with teachers to talk through your child’s education, it’s worth talking about grades. But maybe not with a traditional pass/fail perspective. 

Putting Grades in Perspective

Grades aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. At least, not when they’re taken in light of the substance of a student’s life. They are necessary. They are good to track and necessary to give. They’re useful as systems of measurement and are obviously looked at closely when it comes time for a student’s pursuit of higher education. 

But sometimes grades get in the way of a good education, causing kids to focus more on the grades they’re getting than they do on the lessons they’re learning. 

Sometimes students find their identity in performance (they’re much like adults in that way).  

Sometimes grades give students a false sense of importance or superiority, and sometimes that works the other way. 

So the conversation about grades, progress, and improvements shouldn’t be all about perfection and performance. (Read our past thoughts about performance and perfectionism here.) It should also be about the substance of our students’ lives. 

What About the Under-Achiever?

On the other hand, if you know your student isn’t living up to his or her potential, a bad grade isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Consider this story I heard about parenting kids through the challenges of school. 

There’s a middle school kid whose mom knew her son wasn’t being honest with her, wasn’t applying himself, and wasn’t asking for help from his teachers. He was consistently “forgetting” his homework, lying about his assignments, and doing all that he could to avoid facing his problems. Rather than calling him out, in some sacred attempt to strong-arm him into repentance, she let him struggle. She was wise enough to allow him to suffer the consequences. It took him weeks to finally admit he needed help. The result? He was able to turn in his missing assignments and his grades began to climb out from the D’s and F’s he’d been earning. 

The beauty of this story is that this mom didn’t act like a snowplow, saving her son from any possibility of failure. She let him fail. She let him face the consequences of his choices, knowing that if she swept in and saved the day, he would never learn to use his voice; to take responsibility and ownership over his life. 

As you talk with your student’s teacher, use your time wisely. Talk about grades in terms of your child’s level of “ownership” over their assignments and their responsibilities. Talk about performance as it relates to your child’s gifts and passions, and as it relates to your child’s character. 

Remember that your child’s education at Liberty Classical is a partnership. Remember that grades have their place, but that they’re bigger than just a pass/fail. And remember that your goal as a parent is not to raise a perfect child, but to raise a humble, teachable, and confident adult. You aren’t shaping a child who behaves, but rather an adult who can be a spouse, a parent, a friend, and a leader.