In elementary school my two attachment-challenged sons whipped through their assignments in class. They rarely had homework. Since both made excellent grades, I never gave the situation a second thought.
All that quickly changed by middle school. As the missing work mounted, their grades plummeted.
With seven teachers during the day, they had to pay attention – which isn’t easy for many kids overcoming early childhood trauma. They also had constant anxiety due to low self-esteem, although neither could ever admit it.
In other words, they focused way too much energy on the wrong things.
“Can the teacher be trusted?”
“Is she going to play favorites?”
“Will I have friends?”
“Why do I have to do this now?”
A vicious cycle began. When teachers confronted them about missing or incomplete work, they felt shame. Instead of learning from their mistakes, they made excuses. They even told some incredible lies. When I asked them about homework each day after school, my sons were convinced I was out to get them.
Soon my benign questions turned into debates, then defiance.
Both genuinely wanted to succeed, but their egos kept getting in the way. Better to be fail than to admit being wrong!
One had a 504 Plan, the other an IEP. At the next school meeting, I brought ONE issue to the table – missing homework. Although several teachers were bent on more consequences and punishment, several “allies” knew exactly what to say after listening to me.
“These boys are more than capable. We need to focus on mastery and remain positive. At the same time, we need to avoid petty arguments.”
After an hour-long conversation, a new set of accommodations was put into place.
1) Late work would be accepted without penalty.
2) Tests and quizzes could be retaken after school to raise a failing mark to a C.
3) On projects and papers, choice would be given to some extent.
In addition, missing work would be documented on the weekly progress reports that came home each Friday. To pass the course and not be forced to repeat it, all assignments had to be done by the end of the grading period.
End of story. Period.
At home I simply reminded my two sons about the rules – without emotion. I also added that any missing work needed to be completed before weekend privileges. The choice was theirs, not mine.
The new system worked almost immediately. Because home and school used the same expectations, my sons couldn’t pit one side against the other. By having choice on larger assignments, both felt validated and produced excellent work.
I remember an “A” report on Abraham Lincoln’s early years in politics and an “A+” photo essay on biodiversity in our backyard. Their motivation was obvious.
And when excuses re-surfaced, one English teacher offered the best comeback, “That’s interesting. Let’s call your father and see what he has to say.”
I never received a single call.