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The role of parents in high school academics

Parenting a teenager is tricky, and there is no tougher discussion topic than academics. Students feel that even the most well-intentioned parent nag and overstep bounds. The parent is sure that the student can do better - and they're right! - while the student may be feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Even though parents are just checking in, students may feel that even quick and simple questions turn into comparisons against their friends or unreasonable pressure.

I’m often asked by parents on how I see their role in the partnership among student, teacher, and parent. I think there are five key areas where parents can play a pivotal role:

1. Validator

One of the key areas teachers, especially me, need help from parents is validating what we taught. In class, we will spend time taking notes, repeating back, and practicing to ensure that the student can confirm what was taught. Despite our best efforts, however, there is always a disparity between what the teacher believes she taught and what the student really took back.

Parents have a unique position as the intermediary. I really value it when parents discuss with their student after each class. We at Angela Sun Consulting always send email summaries so parents understand what we went over. If you see a disparity between what the student says and what the teacher reported, that is an extremely valuable piece of feedback to us. That would be a signal that something we are teaching is not landing with the student, and now I know that we need to revisit the concept in another way.

2. Cheerleader

By nature, classes are focused on areas a student needs to improve. In order to have an efficient class, the teacher must spend more time on patching what’s wrong rather than praising what’s right. We use many techniques, including the praise sandwich, to help with this. Even so, the vast majority of class is spent on constructive feedback rather than discussing behaviors I want the student to continue doing.

Given this balance in class and the tough questions we ask, I see parents as our counterbalance in some ways. While our class is spent on what’s wrong, I certainly don’t want students to be misled to the position that everything they are doing is wrong. Give students praise and always remind them that we are improving every week for the better and better.

If your student hits a new SAT goal or reached a new extracurricular milestone, please cheerlead that, emphasize that, and value that. Your emotions affect your students. If you feel just okay when they hit that next SAT score, so will they, and they will be much less motivated in continuing to work hard.

3. Helping find the responsibility compass

This role is akin to a moral compass, but helping your student find his “responsibility compass.” As students transition into adulthood, this is a critical period where they start to rely on themselves and feel independence and control over their lives. In addition to your student taking control over how much phone time he may have or when she can go to bed, they must take equal responsibility for the results achieved in school and in our classes. Their academics are their future, not yours, and they need to own that. In fact, our best students are often the ones who found us themselves.

As long as we have responsible students who care and feel engaged, I have no doubt we can achieve great things together. However, all classes are predicated upon the principle that the student cares and is interested in achieving improvement. A strong responsibility compass will ensure that our student is willing to work hard, and once we have that, we can go anywhere we need to together.

4. Reinforcer

Repetition, repetition, repetition. Most students meet us for only 1.5 hours a week. That’s 166.5 hours in between each class for the student to forget what we learned.

Parents can be especially helpful by:

  • Testing students on their flashcards
  • Asking students to repeat back what they learned
  • Going over the content again days after class to help improve retention

5. Rubber duck

Rubber duck debugging is a well known method in software engineering to fix bugs, and I cannot emphasize how often it applies to SAT/ACT classes. There are many times in class where all I ask in class is for the student to redo their work and explain it to me. They explain and explain and suddenly, “Aha!” All I have done as a tutor is sit there, force them to try again, and listen quietly. I really love this method because it empowers the student to get unstuck themselves instead of relying on the teacher, who obviously isn’t there during the real test!

Parents can replicate this as home and use it to help students on their homework and classwork, even if parents are not able to serve as the role of tutor. Even if you don’t know anything about American history, sitting there and helping your student talk through it, asking questions, are equally, if not more valuable, than being able to provide the answers for your student.

Overall, parents are our partners in working with students. If you’re interested in learning more about how we think parents can work with students on the college admissions process, especially on college essays, please stay tuned for more articles.

Angela

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