Those big brown eyes looked up at me brimming with tears. Honestly, I felt like crying myself. I was helping my daughter with homework that only a Mensa certified genius could decipher. We were both baffled and frustrated. My little straight A student suddenly wailed, “I’ll never get it! I’m going to get bad grades! I just know that I’m going to fail!!”
Fourth grade had gotten off to a truly awful start. My daughter and I both had to adjust to the teacher’s fast-paced teaching style, and assignments that felt more like SAT preparation than elementary school homework. Geometry? Complex sentence structure? In fourth grade? I mean, really. . .!
My daughter missed the comfort of third grade. She missed her old teacher’s fun and exciting teaching style. She missed the feeling of truly understanding the lessons. And she missed the pride of seeing those big, beautiful 100% marks and smiley faces at the top of her paper. All we were seeing in fourth grade were horrible red X marks and grades that made us both hang our heads in despair.
One evening while my daughter pouted over her school grades and homework and mused about how she’d never get an A, I had an idea. I looked directly at her and said, “Sweetie, let’s try something different. Let’s not worry about grades this year. Let’s just focus on learning what we can and doing our best.”
My daughter’s face broke out into confusion and then skepticism. I wasn’t surprised – I’d always (over)emphasized the importance of doing well in school. I was the same woman who had declared a few years ago that only A’s and B’s were acceptable in my house. Any marks below a B would be met with frowns and grave consequences. And now, here I was throwing all of that to the wind.
I took some time to explain more to my daughter. I told her that mommy had been wrong. I told her that we can’t always worry about good grades. And I explained that the most important part about school is not getting bright, shiny A’s on your report card – the most important part is actually learning something. After she got over her shock, my daughter got excited. Together we came up with a mantra for fourth grade: “Do your best! Forget about the rest!”
After we made the pact to forget about grades, it was like a burden was lifted off my daughter’s shoulders. I felt more relieved too. Honestly, the school assignments have NOT gotten any better. They are still just as confusing as ever. But the way that we tackle them as a family is one thousand times better. My daughter’s focus now is on comprehending the concepts (not on scoring an A), and doing her best. I work with her slowly now and am more forgiving of mistakes. If she doesn’t understand something, we go over the concepts several times until it clicks in her little head. The red X marks still keep coming from the teacher’s pen, but we don’t focus on that. Instead, we focus on the slow progress that is being made and the little successes of understanding hard material.
Last night, my daughter mentioned that reports would come out soon. I reminded her of our mantra, “Do your best! Forget about the rest!” With a relieved smile she said, “I hope I get all A’s, but if I don’t I did my best.” I told her that she was absolutely right – doing her best was what counts.
And no matter what that report card says when it comes, I’m going to remind myself that she did her best. I’ll give her a big hug and tell her that her mommy is proud of her.
Yolanda Darville is a wife, mom and freelance writer focusing on issues that make a difference. To read more of her writings connect with her on Twitter at @YolandaDarville.