“Always try your best”

I clearly remember the trouble I got in for making bad grades. I remember at the points where I actually tried my best, coming home in tears over a poor mark on something I thought for sure I aced. It didn’t take me long to stop trying. If I tried my best and didn’t do great, I got in trouble. If I didn’t try at all and got terrible, I got in trouble. One of those options had me taking notes and listening to every word the teacher said, and the other allowed me to doodle and draw fantasy worlds where algebra was the enemy of a fearless knight. You can imagine which one I chose.

I skirted by through most of my school career. I never did homework, never took notes and somehow managed almost a 4.0 in high school. My folks always say “imagine if you did the homework and took notes…” But that wasn’t the point for me. I did it my way, and those grades never felt like the measure of the type of person I was or how smart I was. I would skip lunch to finish reading books about world politics, I would create art that defied a grading structure and place it for the school to see in front of the art building, I would write poetry, stay after school for world government classes, do extra work in science and petitioned my
School to include vegan options at lunch.

Many students who don’t do well in school, but are obviously smart get tagged with the “lazy” label. I certainly was never lazy, but I didn’t fit into the structure of schooling. It just wasn’t my bag. I know now there are many alternatives for my child from private and public schools, charter to gifted, homeschooling and unschooling, the possibilities are endless. It’s my job to find the right fit for my child. I have always placed importance on the individual, not the group.

I never fit into the way school tried to mold me, and my entire adult life I have been self employed and an entrepreneur that has owned my own business. So recognizing that early on could have been paramount to the image I had to fight to maintain about myself. I knew I wasn’t lazy, I was just disinterested, and found lessons from underpaid and overwhelmed teachers completely irrelevant to the person I already knew I would be.

As an adult, I have never defined another adult by their high school transcript, college they attended or job they have. So why do I find myself wanting to ask my child “whats up?” when she bombs a homework assignment? It’s because I want to know one thing. “Did you try your best.” Because if she tried her hardest, I can’t get upset about marks on a paper. I can’t punish someone for doing the best they can do. I reward her for trying and appreciate that not everyone is good at everything. It doesn’t define her, it doesn’t mean she is less intelligent, and it doesn’t help anything to argue and get upset over school grades. It’s never too early to realize, this is their life, not ours. Guidance is important, but I look at where I am now and see a lot of wasted energy dealing with school issues when it’s all totally irrelevant now.

The important thing to remind your child is that they are more than a number on a test. When they are young, school consumes a great deal of their life and it is hard to see beyond what is going on in their classrooms. Though school makes up a big part of their life it is not all there is to it. I’ve seen a lot of needless anguish over numbers on a paper. It is important to remind our children that a poor grade, or a bombed test is not the end of the world. The things that define them are their interests, their strengths, and things that they love.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think school is very important. Socially it can be a dream or a nightmare, educationally it can be wonderful to learn new things that I can’t teach her on my own, she has access to resources I don’t have and that’s awesome. However when it comes to making every single grade perfect, I have to remind myself that if she’s trying her best, that’s good enough for me.


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