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Children need to learn how to set reasonable goals for themselves. In the last few weeks, I have worked with several students who were disappointed in themselves and truly upset about how their final grades turned out. Their reactions ranged from tears, to anger, to blaming someone else. After each of us met to discuss their concerns, the bottom line turned out to be that they had set unrealistic expectations for themselves.
In one case, the student wanted to get the highest grades in every subject even though she knew that she was gifted in math and science and not as much so in language arts. Regardless, she was determined that she would also get excellent grades in English. She struggled to interpret the symbolism in the literature, and she placed the blame for that on the teacher and the other students for being too noisy in class. When she got an average grade on the tests and exam, she was angry. When I offered to sit down with her and her English teacher to discuss strategies for next year, she confessed, “I’m not really mad at her, I’m just mad that I didn’t get an A. I have a terrible time understanding the literature, and I really don’t care about it.”
Another student decided that he wanted to move into all honors level classes the following year in the hopes of raising his grade point average. In order to qualify for the higher-level classes, he needed to maintain above average grades in each class. While he was able to do that in some classes, he was not able to do it in all. He was extremely disappointed in himself and felt like he had let others down.
These children had both set themselves up by setting unrealistic goals for themselves. Fortunately, we were able together to see that they had actually accomplished a lot this year, and what they were seeing as huge failures, were not really that bad. In both cases, their grades were really good overall.
It is important to help students set goals that can be reasonably accomplished and to clearly determine what steps they need to take in order to reach their goals. Help them determine what they need to do in order to reach their potential. For example, perhaps they need to more carefully complete each homework assignment, make appointments with teachers, or ask more questions in class. By taking these steps, they may be able to raise their grades and have something to be proud of. Trying to raise a grade up a letter grade is much more reasonable than trying to get all A’s. When their goals are reasonable, the end of the school year will be something to celebrate.