My heart was beating as the teacher approached my desk. As she pulled my test from the pile and placed it on my desk, my foot started shaking. After gathering the courage, I flipped the test over and my heart sank to my feet. My shoulders felt heavy, and warm tears rushed to my eyes. Emotions overrode my thoughts. I felt disappointed, angry, and worthless all at once. I asked myself, “what are my parents going to think of this grade?”
From the start of our journey in education, we are told by our parents to work hard and make good grades. Our parents gave us all the necessary supplies and resources needed to succeed. However, the resources and help parents provide for their children’s academics become useless when there is an excessive amount of parental pressure on the child to make good grades. I believe the strain to do well in school, that parents unknowingly cause, can lead to students feeling the need to please their parents. The pressure to do well causes students to care more about their letter grades than care about what they are learning.
Coming into high school, there’s a lot of pressure put on a student. You are all of a sudden told your grades are more important than ever before. Sometimes most of the stress is coming from your parents. My parents told me that “high school wasn’t the place to make mistakes and grow from them.” They believe those mistakes can cost you your future, which to them means not getting into what they perceive as a good college. Unfortunately, parental pressure is something many Oyster River High School students experience. Annika Kell (‘22) said, “my parents put a lot of pressure on me about my grades.” She explained that she understands their intentions, and stated, “they are just worried about my future.”
Many parents and families push the idea that the better grades you have, the better person you are. This is a concept that has been brought up in my household on various occasions.
Throughout the years, I’ve asked my parents why getting straight A’s is important. I always hoped the answer would change but it never did, “people only respect you if you are smart.” For the longest time, I believed this. I used to think I didn’t deserve to be respected if I got anything below an A and I would push myself to get higher grades. Over time, I realized that I am more than a test grade. So, I decided to explain that to my parents. I explained to them that a letter grade doesn’t define me and that my grades don’t show the type of person I am. It took time, but eventually they agreed with me. Instead of pushing me to get good grades, they emphasized strong morals such as being respectful to all people, always telling the truth, and always working hard.
Prior to my parents accepting this, the weight of maintaining good grades to be respected by others and making my parents proud became stressful. It also led me to forget the goal of the academic system: learning. I became so caught up in getting A’s, I would not even try to take the time to understand the concepts. My education and my grades became solely based on how well I could memorize the material. There were times when I truly did understand the material but still scored lower than I had hoped for. However, I didn’t care about what I learned. I cared more about the discouraging grade and what my parents would think of me.
Caitrin Ferris (‘22) explained that she’s been in a similar situation before. She explained that when she gets a test back, the first thing she looks at is the grade. She stated, “it doesn’t matter what I got wrong in that moment, just how much the average grade will go up or down.” Motivation through grades has evidently become common among many students.
All this built-up tension surrounding grades can lead to students doubting their self-worth. A study, titled,“Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences” conducted by a psychologist at the University of Michigan, shows that 80% of students base their self worth on their academic success.
Ferris feels the same way as those students. She said, “when I get a bad grade, it makes me feel worthless.” She continued on to explain that she doesn’t want to be a failure to her parents and just wants to make them proud.
As much as I understand that parents want the best for their children and want to see them succeed in the future, the pressure they put on their children can end up doing more harm than good. Students shift their focus to maintaining A’s rather than learning something important in the class. Parents should realize that students may get away with this in high school, but once they enter the real world, their grades mean nothing and knowledge will take them far in life.
For example, I was at a store once and saw a sale sign that read 20% off. Calculating percentages are a basic math skill you learn in middle school. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure it out even though I had gotten an A in math every year of middle school. The A I earned in all those years of math was absolutely useless because I couldn’t put what I learned to use.
However, Emily Jackman (‘22) is someone who focuses more on the material and less on the letter grade. She stated, “there’s no point to the education system if you don’t actually learn the material.” She explained that math is a hard class for her and she wasn’t extremely happy with her grade. However, she continued on to say that she still learned a lot from that class. She said, “I use percentages and other math skills all the time while shopping and other areas of life.”
Jackman’s experience is evidence that the information students learn is what is important and is what is going to get them far in life. It’s important for parents to realize that high school is the place to learn and grow and the only way to do that is through making mistakes. Oyster River High School Counselor, Kimberly Sekera, stated that, “I think all highschool students should experience failure.” She explained that it is human to make mistakes and fail. Sekera continued on, saying that failure is one of the best ways to learn something whether it’s in academics or anything else.
There is no immediate action we can take to help students focus more on their growth than their grades. However, parents can help relieve their child’s stress in school. Parents should start supporting their children rather than stressing them out. Instead of parents pushing their kids to get straight A’s, they could start telling them that they are going to be proud of and love their kids no matter what grades they get because their grades shouldn’t determine how much love and affection they recieve.
It’s also important for parents to let their child know that they are going to help them with any aspect of school. Having a child hear that their parents are going to be there for them helps the student realize that their parents are going to love them no matter what. It would take some pressure off students to please their parents.
Looking back at when I received the test I wasn’t proud of, I wish my first thought wasn’t what my parents were going to think. I wish my only thought was to improve in the areas I struggled in and learn from my mistakes. Now that my parents encourage me to learn more than just focusing on my grades, I have started relearning material from tests that I am not proud of. I have been learning and loving school so much more than I used to as well. I hope that soon all Oyster River students and parents find a way to focus on what matters most: learning.
-Bhavana Muppala (’22)
Artwork by Emily Jackman