Great expectations

As a four-time kindergarten information night alumnus, the focus on academic achievement and parental involvement clearly starts early. The first such session, my wife and I both attended. After that, I drew the short stick each time. Inevitably, at some point in the night, a parent of a five-year-old would detail the brilliance of their child and question the adequacy of the reading and math programs for their child who was already reading at the level of a Ph.D. and dabbling in quantum mechanics. As a parent whose incoming kindergartner recently gave himself a rug burn by rubbing his head against the carpet for no apparent reason, I was not quite able to relate. Fortunately, rug burns heal up nicely, but pinning unrealistic expectations on children does not always heal so nicely.

The desire to see children as special and wanting them to succeed is a natural inclination for any parent, and it is positive to have hopes and dreams for our children. In fact, we should all be challenged to use our gifts and talents to the best of our abilities for the good of others. It is also important to remember that the majority of students are average or even below average students; this is just math, and it is ok! Gifts and strengths go beyond the academic arena.

Grades and scholastic achievement are just one measure of success and do not define a person. In today's age of instant feedback, it can be hard to resist the temptation to focus too much on grades. As my son's high school history teacher shared at a recent back-to-school night, "If you never want your kids to speak to you, check their grades every day."

Hearing these words, it took every ounce of energy for me not to shout, "Amen!" First, because her statement felt like an exoneration from the guilt I have for having no idea how to check my kids' grades online. Second, because her statement aligned with my belief that students, especially in high school, need to learn personal responsibility and accountability. Finally, because grades are only one metric of success.

Working in and around schools for over a quarter of a century, I have seen a lot of amazing things, both positive and negative. Schools are places of great hope and opportunity but also stress and frustration. Students come as they are, and some come with unrealistic expectations from parents who have their own definitions of what academic, athletic, or social success means in school. This is almost always well-intended, but that good intention does not change the damage it can have on a student.

Each student's journey is different, and sometimes, as a parent, this can be scary because it may be a very different journey than the one we imagined. Have faith! Every student is made in the image and likeness of God, and God does not make mistakes. God makes no one perfect and very few with perfect SAT scores! Even the best students will struggle at some point this school year, and it is critically important to not reduce students to their academic, athletic, or social success.

When you talk to your students, remind them they possess unique gifts and talents to share and that no grade, making a team, class election or other school event makes them who they are. Encourage them to explore, to pray, and to take chances. Give them the space to become the person God is calling them to be, and remind them that it is unlikely that their school transcripts are on file with St. Peter!

- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation,