I cared about my grades as a student.
My parents did too, although not oppressively so. I learned early on the positive attention that came along with A's. Once they knew I had internalized their expectations as my own, they focused on all the other things they had to worry about while raising six children.
My parents assumed I would try my best in school, because, why wouldn't I?
They relied on twice-a-year report cards and occasional progress reports to reaffirm this belief.
My relationship with grades became more complicated when it was my children being assessed. After elementary school, not a single paper report card comes home.
Like students across the country, all of their grades are accessible through an online portal. The portal for our district is called Infinite Campus. Even the name sounds ominous. So vast, those grades -- creeping into every corner of time, space and existence.
Teachers are expected to post every homework assignment, quiz and test result. Some schools send notifications with each update. Some parents download the portal app on their smartphones and check the updates hourly. I never became that involved, but during the first year of this transition to online grades, I paid close attention to my daughter's marks. If I saw a score that seemed lower than usual, I would urge my child to take the retest. If an assignment appeared to be missing or incomplete, I'd suggest she talk to her teacher or turn it in for partial credit. I would remind her and follow up frequently.
It took me a year to realize that so much information can quickly go from blessing to burden. I wanted her to do her best, but not because I had a hawkeyed focus on her scores.
I can be a slightly obsessive, competitive workaholic, and worry about my children being too similar and feeling so much pressure. But then I also worry about them not being motivated and competitive enough. I recognized this impulse and wanted to check it before I made all of us miserable. Up-to-the-minute, 24/7 access to their grades isn't the best thing for my mental health, or my relationship with my children.
I also didn't want to become a crutch for her academic achievement. If there is a missing assignment, let her figure out how to make it up.
Easy access to every grade can flip a free-range parent into a hovering helicopter. One parent posted a question on the Free Range Kids website which asked: Are hourly report cards a good idea?
Parents have to figure out where their child thrives and struggles, and decide how to help them grow in the areas they need extra support. Some kids need additional academic help. Others need to grow emotionally or to learn independence.
I decided that by taking responsibility for my child's work, I was robbing her of the opportunity to do so on her own.
This year, I never logged into the online portal. I asked regularly about what she was learning in her classes, which books she was reading and how the tests were going. If she was struggling with a subject, we helped her or found a tutor who could. I talked to her about her presentations, group projects and class discussions. I responded promptly to any teacher email and attended all the conferences. I volunteered for field trips but stepped aside from school projects.
As an Asian-American mother, I may be parenting against type by opting out of hypervigilant grades monitoring. For children of immigrants, there can be a culture of high academic expectations. I don't have the will (or energy, frankly) to be a Tiger Mom, but I lean in that general direction.
Even with this hands-off approach, I knew I had a safety net.
My husband kept tabs on her progress through the website. He is much more laid-back about all aspects of parenting, so perhaps it makes more sense for him to keep an eye on the online grade book.
I asked her if she noticed that I hadn't checked in on her specific grades this year.
"Not really, because Dad was stalking my grades, like, every week," she said. (He looks at her grades every few weeks.) It's kind of like role reversal, she added, that her father would ask about assignments.
I explained to her the difference between internal and external motivation.
"I want you to learn to do well for your own satisfaction -- not to please your parents or teachers."
"I do everything for myself, anyway," she said.
Were truer teenage words ever spoken?
I asked her how she ended up doing this year. Just as good or slightly better than last year, she said.
Bonus: I had nothing to do with it.