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Eighth-Grader Not Trying in School

Middle School Expert Advice from Connie Collins

Q: Help, my eighth-grade son is doing very poorly in school. It's not that he can't do the work, it seems that he's going out of his way not to do the work. We took away all of his privileges (including his stereo), and his report card just got worse! I've tried to contact his teachers and the guidance department at his school, but unless I catch them at their desks, my messages and notes go unanswered! I'm at my wit's end. I thought of going to the principal, but I don't want to anger the teachers. Please advise me on what direction to take.

A: The school guidance department and the teachers have an ethical and legal obligation to support you in helping your son. My sense is that the purpose of his not doing well might be a bid for attention -- any kind of attention, even if it's bad. I encourage you to talk with him about what he sees as the problem. Do this at a time when everyone is calm. Be encouraging, but firm. Tell him you will do your part to help, but he has to do his part, too. Set up consequences. He has to pass or he will be spending his summer in summer school, instead of going on vacation or hanging out with friends.

Next, write a letter to his counselor and teachers. Begin by stating that you know they are very busy and perhaps didn't get your messages requesting a meeting. Say this is urgent and that you are requesting a meeting with all your son's teachers and the counselor. Be very specific about what you want to discuss -- a plan for helping your son succeed. Include the times you are available, and where you can be reached. Send a copy to the principal and make sure that is indicated by a "cc: Principal's name" at the conclusion of your letter.

If you don't get a response within ten working days from the time you sent the letter, call the principal and inform him that you haven't heard a response to your letter and would like his assistance in setting up the meeting. When the meeting is scheduled, make sure your son is present so that he can be part of the solution, and so that everyone hears the same thing. I am hoping that the staff will focus on a plan to help your son and not on personal issues. If not, it will be up to you to focus the discussion on what can be done to help your son succeed in school.

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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.


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