When I first logged into PowerSchool, the portal used by our district, I marveled at the sudden windfall of information about my child’s academic life.
In the beginning, I carefully monitored every assignment from my phone or computer. I even turned on notifications, so each time a new grade was uploaded, my phone announced its presence.
Oop, he just finished his vocab test. Oh, the geometry grades are in. There’s that social studies project.
I’m not a helicopter parent, I swear. I actually pride myself on letting my kids have a fair amount of independence.
However, my oldest has struggled in school since kindergarten. He repeated first grade. And near the end of third grade, after lots of frustration and testing, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Because of that, he has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which sets goals and outlines special education services. For example, my son gets extra time on standardized tests.
His IEP, coupled with a big move, made me extra vigilant about making sure he was getting the help he needed and deserved. For several years, he struggled to keep up with his classmates and the frustrations of a new school, new teacher, new expectations, new everything were understandably overwhelming. His elementary school years were tough, period.
Sometimes, a random F grade in a sea of As and Bs would alert me that he wasn’t taking advantage of his IEP accommodations. Or maybe a teacher forgot. Or maybe he simply needed some extra tutoring on a particular topic. For example, he perfectly understood the concept of ratios but had trouble reversing the numbers.
As he’s gotten older, he’s come to despise me watching his grades so carefully. And at the beginning of this school year, my teen politely asked me to stop tracking him in PowerSchool altogether.
I realized that over time, instead of just using the tool for tutoring and IEP monitoring, I’d begun to use his grades as a conversation starter. And it usually wasn’t a positive one.
“Did you get extra time on that algebra test? Because I saw you got a C, and I’m wondering if you left some answers blank because you didn’t finish?”
“Why did you only get a 50 percent on your social studies notebook?”
“Your art grade seems a little low. Do you want to talk about it?”
He’d huff and give me logical explanations for all of it: The class average was a D for the algebra test, and they’d all get a chance to retake it. He only turned in half of his social studies notes because the full assignment isn’t due until Friday. He had until the end of the quarter to finish his big art project but it was coming along fine.
I came to realize that all these grades pouring in didn’t give me the full picture. Not even close.
At the same time, as his parent and number-one advocate, I need to know if his IEP is being followed. Or if he’d benefit from extra tutoring or support.
So we came to an agreement:
- He tracks his own grades.
- If it’s looking like a semester grade in any subject will dip below a B, he’ll talk to me about it well in advance.
- Throughout the semester, he’ll manage his classes with his teachers and his special ed helper to make sure he’s on track for As and Bs.
- If he’s not on track, he’ll ask about extra credit, retakes, alternate assignments, accommodations, extra support, or even switching to another class.
- He’ll evaluate the situation, work with his teachers and keep me in the loop.
In short, he assured me he’d handle it. And to my delight, he has.
I still ask him about school, of course, but I try very hard to keep it in general terms and let him give me details as he chooses. One night, he confided he was stressing about a social studies test, so I quizzed him after dinner and he really appreciated that and even asked me to do the same on a future test. I remind him often that Dad and I are always available, to which he undoubtedly replies, “I know, I know.”
I’ve also seen him pull up his audiobook software to help forge through some tough literature for English language arts. And I know he requested to type an assignment his classmates had to write by hand.
We’re still working through this new plan, but so far he’s proven he doesn’t need me watching every grade. That he’s got this. I also know he’ll come to me if he needs to, though I’m shocked at how little he does.
My mama heart would like to be more involved, but I see his independence and self-advocacy blooming. And sometimes I need to remind myself that that’s the goal, that’s what I’ve wanted for him all along.
Jacqueline Miller is the lone female in a house full of guys. She travels freakishly light and can balance two kids on her Dutch bike. Her recent articles appear in Scary Mommy, Her View From Home, and Sammiches & Psych Meds, and she’s working on a book about her three years in the Netherlands. If you enjoyed this article, follow her at www.boogersabroad.com and Facebook.