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Help! My Child Got 4 Fs

By Dr. Ruth Jacoby, Educational Consultant


I just came from an unsuccessful parent-teacher conference. Here's my story: Yesterday my really smart child comes home in tears and says "Mom, I got 4 F's."

We sit down, she says she doesn't understand the instructions. These are her first F's in life. I set up a parent-teacher conference to sort our

communication issues - maybe I'm not aware of what's required, maybe my daughter's not asking enough questions - who knows. So the teacher basically says, not to worry about the F's. My daughter's fine. I need to lighten up. So the very communication issue my daughter has in class gets played out in the teacher conference. Where do I go from here?


If the F's continue or you are still unhappy with how the conference ended, call for another one, but this time write down the key points you want to make with the teacher. Restate to the teacher that your expectations for your child do not include failing grades and that you want to seek help to find out why this is occurring since she has never failed before. Find out why the teacher is making light of this.

Sit down with your daughter and role-play how to ask for assistance. Assign roles: You be the student first and your child the teacher. Switch roles so your daughter starts to learn through this practice the best and most comfortable way for her to ask a question.

Have your daughter bring home the textbooks. Review the areas where she is having difficulties. Write down the key points in a "Study Journal." Have your daughter review her class notes and highlight the key points. You may have to assist quite a bit in the beginning since forming new study habits is not an easy task. Your effort will be worth it when your daughter does most of the studying on her own and you just have to be there for quick reviews. The end result of higher grades will justify the time put in.

Dr. Ruth Jacoby has been involved in education for more than 30 years as an educator, principal and currently as an educational consultant in Florida. She is the co-author of the School Talk! Success Series including Parent Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication With the School and Your Child, Homework Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication About Your Child's Homework and Test Talk!: Understanding the Stakes and Helping Your Children Do Their Best.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"is your child doing her homework? Maybe this is her problem??? And I'd suggest you read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell he says never call your child smart, cause that just reienforces the idea that she doesn't have to do hard work to get good grades. If she gets bad grades tell her she needs to work hard, show her hard work is the only way to get anywhere in life. Blaming the teacher won't help and calling your child smart, when she clearly is not will not help either. Sorry to be a negative nancy. I'm a college student taking many psychology classes including child psych, educational psych, cognitive psych, and developmental psych, so I kinda know about learning and memory. Dan Wilingham has some good articles I'd suggest you read about study habits and such. Again Outliers is a wonderful book, please read it Also Gifted Hands the Ben Carson Story is phenomenal. Carson got F's like your child, he is a world renown surgeon now, he includes facts like reading and not taking the easy way out as the keys to success. Agree with Dr. Ruth but 'Restate to the teacher that your expectations for your child do not include failing grades and that you want to seek help to find out why this is occurring since she has never failed before.' is where I disagree. This will only show the teacher you are a overbearing parent. I'd rephrase and say your child was disappointed with her performance and would like to improve her work. Showing that your child cares and the teacher will rather help a child who has initiative to improve themselves rather than a parent who has initiative to basically do all the work for the child. Sorry if this is harsh, but please understand, I don't mean to come off like this."
"I can appreciate that the teacher may be ready to retire but I've found out something else. You can go to the principal when you can't make progress with a teacher BUT, they are always on the teachers side. It's over before you begin. They just won't except that any teacher is the problem. They form a united front that excludes the parent. They consider everything you try to tell them as an insult and a slam to the school. I was really shocked when this started happening to me so I ask around and found it's true most everywhere. They make excuses. If it doesn't fit, they try another one. The Principal tried to tell me that my son 'wasn't doing his homework'. Well, I'm home and I know he does his homework and I help him with it. Then it was 'he doesn't pay attention he's always in his backpack' and I find out from the teacher that his backpack is kept across the room with everyone elses. I try to say the teacher is going to fast and the principal tells me this te! acher has the highest test scores in the school. This was before I realized that the school is in the Bottom 1% in the nation! He had four hours of homework every night including weekends. He had to drop his after school music lessons and everything else. Still he wasn't learning and he was stressed out. All they want to do is point their finger at YOU. They don't ever wait to see who you are or how involved with your child's education you are. How does this help the students? How does making an impassable circle around the school cause your son to learn anything? I'm an older Mom with kids in their 40's so I've see a completely different kind of teacher, ones more like my own, only better! Now this! They really don't care. The teachers don't correct homework, I found out. Don't have time. How did they have time before, when I was in school and my older kids were in school? So they really don't know who is having what problem. If you're a very good student a! nd are totally on the ball you can get by. My 13 year old is ! like this. She's very disiplined all on her own. She also has a 5 year background in private school (2 years were pre school). I couldn't afford to keep her in. My 11 year old son struggles and struggles and doesn't learn/isn't taught. If your child has any problems with learning but not enough to quality for state help, they're just lost, fall through the cracks. "
"I read your Great Schools newsletter pretty regularly. Wanted to pass along that I was SHOCKED AND DISMAYED at the answer given to this issue's 'Troubleshooter' column by Dr. Ruth Jacoby. The reader's daughter has come home in tears with 4 F's, and the parent was told by the teacher: 'not to worry about the F's. My daughter's fine. I need to lighten up.' Jacoby's response was to improve study habits and talk more. Well, maybe, but there is a MUCH bigger problem here. Any teacher who takes 4 F's so nonchalantly - especially from a good student who has never gotten F's before and was moved to tears - clearly doesn't give a damn about her students and is way past due for retirement. The parent should go to the principal immediately and get this situation fully sorted out between the teacher, parent, student, and principal - or if that is not possible, pull her daughter from this class. In my opinion, Dr. Jacoby's response was not helpful and was a detriment to your publication. "