Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Today we introduce Whit’s End, a new advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Each week Al will address readers’ questions about anything ranging from school issues, coaching problems, relationship quandaries and more!  His experience is vast, and he holds a degree in psychology, too. To submit a question, email – The Eds.

My son will be entering the 9th grade at an excellent independent school. He is a good student, but does not always assert himself.  For example, he will not tell his teacher if the homework took him two hours when he was told that it should take an hour.  If he is having a difficult time with an assignment, he won’t ask for help or tell the teacher that he needed extra time.

Since I know what he is like, how much should I help him?  If I monitor whether he is working or on-line, he tells me to stop treating him like a criminal.  If I know that he is weak in certain areas or doesn’t check his work carefully, shouldn’t I offer to look it over first? Isn’t my job to see that he gets the most out of his school experience and does as well as possible?

Also, how often should I communicate with his teachers? Would asking for a weekly report from his teachers be reasonable? I’d like to make sure sooner rather than later that he doesn’t get behind or unnecessarily struggle at a school that has a reputation for being rigorous academically.

I just feel if I don’t get involved, something will go wrong, and he will miss a valuable opportunity.

Concerned Mom in Baltimore

Dear Concerned Mom:

Knowing how much to help is a tricky balancing-act for both of you.  You don’t want him to slip, especially without a safety net. But the only way for him to gain confidence is to believe that he doesn’t need the net, even though you know that people are there to “spot” or catch him if he does fall. However, you should not be one of those catchers.

As a new student, your son will be assigned an advisor (all students have them), a faculty member who will be his advocate and liaison to his teachers. Tell him to keep communication lines open with his advisor, apprising him or her of his progress, including any problems. In this way, he will be responsible for his learning but not alone.  Because the advisor is an advocate, the relationship will, perforce, be less evaluative and also less formal. You can’t make him forthcoming to his advisor, but you can encourage him as well as inform his advisor about what you see as his strengths and weaknesses. If you like, ask to meet with the advisor before school starts, but then get out of the way and let him be the “point man.”

Remember, monitoring him is not your job. Ask him what he expects, tell him what you expect, and give him the chance to measure up to those expectations. Let him know that if he has any questions or difficulties, you will be glad to give your opinion, but don’t give him unsolicited advice or instructions.

Trust him and his advisor to keep you informed. And remember that mistakes are not only unavoidable, they are desirable.  I believe that Twain said something to this effect: Growing up, I was always cautioned against making mistakes. But I realized as I got older that every time I avoided a mistake, I missed an opportunity to learn something.

Your job is to give him the opportunity and the responsibility for his learning.

As another soi disant “catcher,” Holden Caulfield, put it, “If they fall off, they fall off.” Your son will fall, and catchers will be there to help him up, but with patience, practice, and success, he will eventually learn to catch himself.

One reply on “Monitoring School Work: How Much Is Too Much?”

  1. Well said, Dr. Whitaker–with the understanding of experience, professional insight, and common sense!

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