Too often, parents and their children are concerned with the social and material trappings associated with the start of the school year: Hours are spent discussing peers, fashion and potential homecoming dates, athletic events, post-game celebrations or wakes, weekend parties and all the other "incredible" goings-on of daily high school life.
Lost in this frenetic upheaval are important lessons necessary for positive learning experiences in high school.
None of the distractions or traditional "convulsions" that surface at the start of every school year will go away. But they can be dealt with.
Parents and students need to discuss expectations, responsibilities and objectives.
*Expectations -- Should be both idealistic and realistic.
Not every student is going to go on to college, but parents and offspring need to discuss how a variety of academic courses will prepare one for life.
Instead, many students -- with their parents' permission -- take only the required courses, put themselves on half-day schedules and take jobs at the minimum wage for money they often spend on teen-age toys: used cars, records and tapes, trendy clothes and, in some cases, drugs.
Expectations also need to deal with the social, athletic and esthetic development of the student. Our high schools offer quality extracurricular programs of great variety, so that the student can become involved in a number of activities in order to round out the total person.
Dedication to the activity is important, however. Too many students are willing to join clubs, teams and groups, but not commit effective time and energy to them. They become ineffective, unreliable or mediocre participants, and waste the group's time as well as their own.
*Responsibilities. Students must be given the chance to be responsible for their own educational growth. Nevertheless, both the teacher and the parents are involved. The student shows responsibility when he arranges his own personal schedule, which includes daily study time for homework, projects, outside reading and research. A work area is established in the home and the student retreats there with assignments that have been written down on a daily basis.
By showing that he is responsible, the parents' concerns for his academic welfare can be assuaged. Students must also inform parents of evaluations of their work. This not only includes report cards, but should also cover daily quizzes, weekly tests, and long-term reports and projects -- no matter if the grades are superior or failures.
Since studies are a priority, the student must keep the parents posted on upcoming tests and reports so that the family will not schedule activities that will significantly alter his schedule.
The parents' responsibility in the education process should reflect the idea that there is confidence in the student to do the job on his own, and a willingness to help whenever the need arises. Instead of asking, "What happened in school today?" parents should ask if anything interesting happened or was covered by a teacher, or if the student is particularly enjoying any class or activity.
Encourage your child to use you as a resource for subjects you have either an expertise or interest in. By being accessible in this way, you can help them plan a schedule, go over graded tests and papers, and provide some creative suggestions.
Try to give the student his own study place in the home. It should be away from television sets and the washing machine, but it should not be tucked away in a totally isolated place. My children do their work in the kitchen while my wife and I work or relax 10 steps away in the study so that we can be there if help is required.
Personal contact with the teacher is important. If the student is doing well then there is the knowledge that he is being responsible. If the student is doing poorly, plans can be made to alter performance.
When students show they cannot be responsible for their academic success, I set up a monitoring system for the parents. I encourage the parent to discuss this process with the student, who must be told that since his performance is poor the parent will be stepping in to assist in bringing up grades.
The parent calls me to find out what assignments were due the past week, how the student performed, and suggestions for improvement. Assignments, readings, and upcoming tests for the next week also are discussed. The parent sets up a schedule for the student, sets time aside and provides positive support.
Parents call me at weekly intervals. This method is quite effective in increasing the performance of students who are overly social, lazy or unmotivated. A triangle of concerned individuals is formed. The student knows that his parents and the teacher are looking to him for better performance; the parent participates in the learning process; and the teacher can help support in an individualized way.
Parents who have already incurred academic problems with their son or daughter should contact teachers at the start of the year. A good start to any high school year is imperative and will pay many dividends later in the year.
Many students will resent this monitoring process, but that, too, is incentive for them to become independently responsible.
Here are a few other hints for a successful school year:
*Avoid overly stringent restrictions. For instance, allow phone conversation in the evenings -- but limit calls to one time period, such as 7:30 to 8 p.m.
*Reinforce good performance with different types of rewards. These rewards should not always be financial; heartfelt expressions of how good your student has made you feel can work wonders.
*Ask questions of the teacher. If history work, for example, is not being brought home, ask, "Does Herbert have a book?" or "Do you ever give homework?"
*If you have a student who is manipulative, arrange a conference with the appropriate teacher, a counselor, yourself and your child. Sometimes more than one teacher can be involved in these conferences. Face-to-face meetings tend to clear the air, put problems out on the table and lead to solutions that can be monitored.
*Beware of group study involving your student and his friends -- especially if the students isolate themselves. There are benefits to group study -- especially for team projects and peer tutoring -- but make sure these sessions do not turn into social affairs.