Watching Your Children Fail

Joseph N. Feinstein is the host and co-producer of "Teen Talk," a Saturday morning talk show devoted to issues of concern to teen-agers on KHJ-TV, Channel 9.

For the last 27 years I have been prodding, encouraging and facilitating the education of tens of thousands of children who have attended my classes at Ulysses S. Grant High School in Van Nuys. But I am now discouraged and disillusioned after years of observing at first hand the crippling and growing apathy of the students. And it really hurts.

Recently--on Jan. 28, to be precise--I prepared the grades for the 94 students in my three Education/Career Options classes. I recorded 37 F's and 27 D's. This required class is designed to help 10th-grade students discover their career interests, aptitudes and how to best use school programs to achieve their goals. The number of students who scored unsatisfactorily in the work-habits and cooperation portions of the course was depressingly high--about 75%. These grades were in no way tied to race or socioeconomic status. Our student population is composed of a range of racial, ethnic and income groups. The problem is a combination of lack of effort, incredibly poor attendance and parental indifference. A few examples:

I sent letters to the parents two weeks in advance to request their attendance for a class open house. A total of three parents participated for all three classes.

I assigned my students to do an interview of one of their parents, step-parents or grandparents, and to include information on that person's life as a teen-ager and his or her education and entrance into the world of work. About 70% of my students did not complete the assignment. Many of them said that their parents were too busy to give them time for the interview.

Almost all students who received F's at the end of the semester were notified five weeks before the submission of final grades that they were in danger of failing, but only one parent called to confer with me.

I want you to understand that I know that the blame does not rest solely with the parents. I believe that the children's grades ultimately are their responsibility. They are the ones who will have to sit and listen to the material a second time.

I am not seeking to place blame. What I want is a solution that would help me, my fellow teachers and the students. A proven method for improving student performance is for parents to take an active, concerned, involved position with their children's education. The youngsters'--caring quotient--rises in direct proportion to the level of interest that you, the parents, show in their education. Teachers need, welcome and thrive on your help and support:

--You must see to it that your children attend school; they should be there each and every day.

--You must encourage them to read, speak and write in English; if you do not read, speak and write English, you must learn.

--You must call the school when you receive notices that your children are doing poorly. You must care that they are succeeding, and then they will succeed.

--You must show them by example that school is very, very important by coming to school when you are invited on open school nights or for parent-teacher conferences.

--You must provide a place in your house, apartment or room for your child to study. He needs to know that this is the room, corner, table, whatever where he is supposed to study, and it is to be used consistently for that purpose.

These problems did not begin just this past September; they have been evident for nearly a decade, and they are not getting better. Failing students do not radically change to become earnest, zealous, enthusiastic workers. The sense of defeat permeates their souls and sets the stage for a bleak future. None of us want or need to see these kids join the growing number of "street people."

At the moment I am giving serious thought to leaving teaching. Watching your kids fail was not what I had in mind when I entered the profession.

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