Imagine this situation:
Your child performs worse in math than in other classes. So, he hates to go to math, probably because he is embarrassed. He therefore finds a way to get to class a few minutes late every day, maybe he takes an extra long time at his locker, talking with friends, or in the bathroom. His consistent tardiness frustrates and offends his math teacher, who, in an attempt to encourage him to arrive to class on time, has decided to write your child’s name on the board in the corner and to keep a running tally of how many times he is late. Too many late arrivals and he will get a detention.
This is a true story of a plight of one of my clients’ children.
While I was immediately appalled by the use of shame to coerce compliance, I have to hope that the teacher had good intentions and simply did not know a better way to entice his student to get to class on time. However, there are other, more productive and shame-free options.
To combat this ill-thought-through plan, first, as always, talk to your child about the problem in a judgment-free fashion. “So, your math teacher wants to write your name on the board and keep track of how many times you arrive late to class. How do you feel about that? (Wait for a response…) I can see how that would make me feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. I would not want my teacher to do that to me. You do need to arrive at class on time (that is a non-negotiable). Let’s try to think of other, less embarrassing ways, to get you to math class on time. Do you have any ideas? (Wait for a response again…) Why do you think you are late to math so often?”
Perhaps your child is embarrassed that he is so bad at math. A potential solution would then be for his math teacher to tutor him or review the homework answers with him before class, so that he is better prepared for class and ready to pipe up with answers instead of skulk off in the back of the class hoping to be unnoticed.
If your child is only late to this one class, the root of the problem is not a time management issue. There is something about that class that needs addressing and no amount of shame or punishment will force him to be on time or participate more. In fact, it will most likely persuade him that “math sucks” even more and he will disengage from learning in that class further, even if it does force him to be there on time. To solve the problem, you will need to find the true source, which will require you to:
- Be empathetic
- Be positive
- Be calm
- Keep all negative judgments of your child to yourself
- Listen to your child
- Problem solve with your child.
After you discover the root of the problem, I encourage you to encourage your child to self-advocate the next day. Encourage him to discuss the source of the problem with his teacher. Teachers go into teaching because they genuinely want to help their students succeed. If a student comes to them with a problem and a potential solution, only the most despicable teacher can refuse. Bringing this issue to the teacher will help her see the situation from the student’s perspective and increase her willingness to try a different approach.
One way your child could approach the teacher in this situation is as follows:
“I know that I need to be in math class on time. The problem is I get anxious before math class every day because I am worried that all of my homework answers are wrong. I know that you are trying to get me to class on time by tallying my lateness on the board, but it just increases my anxiety and hurts my ability to pay attention in class. Can we come up with a different plan? Could I come to you early to review my answers?”
This is so hard and takes such inner strength, but it is invaluable practice for students to self-advocate and communicate, especially as they head off to college and the working world. Perhaps his teacher will not have the time to review his answers, but it starts the conversation and the two of them can then come up with a plan that works for both of them.
(If your child is too young or ineffective in his self-advocacy, you can then follow up with the teacher with a similar message.)
Teachers want students to learn. If they put a policy in place that hinders learning, your child has the opportunity to practice self-advocacy, to show the teacher a student’s perspective, and to change that policy so that the goal is met.