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The unexpected B grade

So your teen ended last semester with a B. Yes, a B, despite repeated assurances it would be an A.

They continually cited missing work, extra credit and the final exam score as tokens of inevitably that the needle would move back to A-land. Nonetheless, they ended with a B.

B, in this case, is for bubble.

Bubble grades occupy real estate in two separate, but neighboring, academic ZIP codes: 904-point-0 and 903-point-0. Neighbors yes, but each with their own unique onramp to post-secondary educational choices.


The big reveal was tense, rendered days after final exams had ended. And like a rose ceremony of academia unfolds, the results make more sense as the semester is reviewed and combed over in reflective detail.

So what steps can be taken to decrease the likelihood of this happening again?

Preface: There is nothing wrong with earning a B, if that B is an accurate reflection of ability and effort. This column confronts a B stemming from subpar effort and study habits clearly below a student’s known capabilities.

1.) Learn from, don’t dwell on, the grade. Parents in this situation have the opportunity to frame this scenario as a blessing or a curse; I suggest the first option. Use the grade as the invitation it is to get reacquainted with the protocol and process pertaining to your teen’s education. Use it as a wake-up call and rein in an overzealous social schedule, or calibrate organizationally ignorant patterns of behavior. Itemize, categorize and prioritize actors that led to the bubble grade and create an action plan.


2.) Implement tangible and actionable goals. Rather than concentrating on the obvious goal of getting an A, instead look toward smaller actions that will lead to success. Establish the expectation that your student will meet with (if only for five minutes) each teacher weekly to ensure they remain on the same page. Many schools have intervention times or teacher office hours built right into their school day. Require that your student email their teachers to schedule appointments, ask clarifying questions or articulate their specific concerns. In time, your teen will develop self-advocacy skills that will pay dividends moving forward and into college.

3.) Establish (and stick to) a routine. Teens thrive in structure. Implement clear procedures at home; this will help reduce stress, meltdowns and all-nighters. Some kids use lists, some use planners, some use nothing, but most use a combination of all three. Get organized and focused by introducing a mandatory study hall of sorts. Conduct it in the same place, for the same length of time, daily, regardless of whether or not they have an assignment due the next day. Here, they will organize their life, calendar events, complete long-term assignments, draft correspondence and remain in touch with their various responsibilities. Structure should also consider meal time, bed time, technology-free time and family time as key factors in strengthening the overall wellness of your teen.

4.) Require student-teacher face time (over or in addition to student-tutor facetime). This is not a dig at tutors. Tutors can hold a valuable role within the educational support system for students. However, teachers are the professionals tasked with planning, teaching and grading units of study. Meeting face-to-face with teachers indicates (both verbally and non-verbally) the student’s commitment to his or hers own learning. And while final grades may not be rounded, as proven by the bubble grade, teacher-student relationships are built on countless subjective interactions that ultimately lead to a student’s opportunity (or lack thereof) to complete missing work, or test-corrections, or rewrite an essay and so on. The more time spent as an invested learner, the more likely students are to earn opportunities not otherwise advertised.

5.) Avoid the blame game. Identifying factors that contributed to a lackluster final outcome is important, but overemphasizing who is the most at fault is a waste of time and energy. Many students will attribute the bubble grade to their teacher. And if asked, the teacher would most likely attribute it to the student. There is no winner. Rather, working from a collaborative mind-frame will lead to more lasting and improved results. Even if you, as the parent, know 110% that it was someone’s fault, lead by example and work to coalesce your student and their teacher so they can move on into the next semester with a clean slate. Teachers are professionals, but they are also people, and people are less likely to want to help someone who they perceive to be gunning for them.

DANIEL PATTERSON, a former Newport-Mesa Unified administrator, recently launched Patterson Perspective Inc., a consulting company specializing in teenagers, education, college planning and parenting.