It’s not unusual for students who were excelling in primary school to see a slight dip in their results when they first hit secondary school. And even if this only happens in a subject or two, it can come as quite a shock for students as well as for parents. It’s very important to know how to bounce back and move on positively.
It is now common for secondary schools to work quite closely with their main feeder primary schools. Primary and secondary schools want to make the transition to the new level of schooling as happy as possible for students. However, there is still quite often a jump in the standard of work expected at the secondary level.
It’s important that parents and teenagers know this. If teenagers bring home a result that they see as disappointing, parents need to be able to reassure them that they must allow time to adjust to the new work as well as to all of the other differences between primary and secondary school. Parents need to praise the effort their children have put into each piece of work. Teachers always give feedback and suggestions on how to improve work in their subject. Parents and children must take on board the suggestions teachers provide. At the same time, parents also need to consider whether their child has put an adequate amount of time and effort into the work they have just had assessed. Is there anything preventing the student from doing justice to set work? Have the many exciting new subjects and new friends provided too much of a distraction? Has the student had enough sleep? What about breakfast? We have to remember that diet and sleep drastically affect concentration and academic performance for all children but especially for growing teenagers.
Rather than rushing up to see a teacher or frantically emailing, first ask yourself these questions…
- Is my teen well organised? Was adequate time given to completing the set work or was the work only started right before it was due?
- Is my teen involved in too many extracurricular activities? Although interests are fantastic, school work should be given the top priority.
- Is my teen getting enough sleep?
- Does my teen have a decent breakfast to maintain energy levels until lunchtime?
- What comments has the teacher provided? Did my teen understand the task? Was part of the answer incomplete? Was a bibliography and other requirements included? Does your teen know how to move forward and tackle the next piece of work with greater insight or more information? If not, ask your teen to politely approach the teacher at a time when the teacher is able to take the time to chat. Right before a class or even during a class is often not a good time. Many students email their teachers to ask when they can meet up for a quick chat about work. This ensures that teachers are more relaxed and able to offer more help. It’s never a good idea to attack the teacher or demand to know why the result wasn’t better – especially in front of an audience of other students. Most teachers genuinely want to help their students and a working relationship based on mutual respect is the best way forward for everyone.
Keep an open mind…
There are a greater range of core subjects at the secondary level and even good students may initially find a new subject challenging. Encourage your teen to keep an open mind. A subject that may not initially appeal may become more exciting as the term unfolds. A subject that seems too difficult may become a favourite subject when everything falls into place a few months down the track. A teacher who may initially not be a teenager’s favourite person on the planet can become a trusted mentor and a highly regarded teacher. These things may just take a little time and patience.
Students will have electives in most schools. Once again, sometimes students take a while to warm to these.
In most schools, core subjects can be compulsory for the first three or four years at secondary school. It is very important that parents explain the importance of cooperating and working seriously in every class regardless of whether or not a teen enjoys a particular subject. Important skills will be acquired in every subject and we don’t always have to enjoy something before we do our best in it. This is a good life lesson for every student.
How can parents help?
Parents can help enormously by offering to look at assignments and homework questions before students begin working on them. ‘How are you going to approach this? What does this question really ask you to do? When are you going to start this piece of work? Should you check with the teacher to make sure you have understood the task before you do a lot of work on it?’ (The answer to the last question is almost always ‘YES’!) Sometimes a quick discussion will reveal that your teen doesn’t really understand what is required. You may also be able to help your teen interpret a question or realise in time that it might be a good idea to approach the teacher for help or clarification of a question the next day.
Don’t do homework for your teenager. If you start doing this now, where does it end? And learning to manage time, how to break a task into smaller tasks, how to take notes and other skills are very important and become more important as students move up into more senior years. Doing all of the homework is disadvantaging your teen. Helping too much isn’t helping at all. And don’t rush out and find a tutor. This is providing a crutch before your teen even tries to walk unaided at the secondary level.
Students (and parents) need to be patient and take one day at a time in the first term at secondary school. Work with teachers. Ask them for guidance and remember to do this earlier rather than right before the work is due! Sometimes it just takes a while for teens to settle in and adjust to so many new subjects, people and processes. There is a solution to every problem and teachers are there to help you and your child find the right solutions at every hiccup along the way.