Good Grade Incentives...


There is quite a bit of scuttlebutt regarding kids in the news this week…kids getting paid for good grades…kids becoming bullies if they have been (gasp) spanked at some point in their lives…kids fed up with greasy pizza and nuggets boycott the cafeteria…kids pushing the new girl in town who dared to date the quarterback to suicide.

I read a book awhile ago called “Your Kids are Your Own Fault” by Larry Winget.  The book essentially gives tips to raise a responsible, productive adult.  Considering some of the parents I’ve met in the school parking lot that are currently raising this generation…they are going to need more than a book of tough love and straight talk–they need to go back to the drawing board–sadly, screwed up kids that result from bad parenting are not allowed do-overs.  Even sadder… this particular group is so self-absorbed they more than likely don’t think the rules apply to them or their precious children.  Rules, after all, are meant to be broken.


Think of the brattiest kid you know–I’m sure there is at least one bad apple hanging on your family tree (let your imagination run wild–the kid’s a beast and it’s probably due to in-law influence) and if nothing fell out after shaking the tree, you’ve certainly come across one of these clowns at soccer practice, the school Ice Cream Social, or possibly in aisle seven at the Jewel. 

Chances are this kid is the direct result of his/her parents never giving the youngster the opportunity to hear the word NO.  My motto has always been to let the kids hear NO early and often.  I’m amazed at the hooligans I’ve come across that make it to middle school without ever hearing the word.  Today’s parents will ask “how can we raise children among all that “negativity”.  Amazingly enough, our parents didn’t have a problem with it at all.

My favorite of all news stories came from the revelation that parents offer incentives for good grades.  I can’t even begin to imagine my dad pulling the wad of cash fastened together by the magnetic money clip out of his back pocket to pay us for grades.  You know what we got for bringing home acceptable grades?  The gift of living until the next quarter.  And you could “mark his words” that the grades had better improve or you “have had it”.

Back in the 70’s at St. Michael School we were graded by numbers–1-5.  A 5 was excellent–while a 1 was complete failure.  Now the nuns had a sense of humor and therefore added some excitement to the mix (utter dread if you grew up in my family)…in addition to the academic grade you were also awarded a grade for your effort.

It didn’t matter what the academic grade was in our family–if your grade in effort was so much as a minus below the academic grade you knew the shit was going to hit the fan.  My Dad did not tolerate lack of effort for that equaled lack of caring…and bringing shame to the family name–a mortal sin as far as he was concerned.

I remember one grading period in particular; six of us kids were waiting in line outside of the den.  My Dad was behind his desk, chain smoking Lucky Strikes with one hand, while he held a stack of report cards shaking in his other hand.  He had the crazed-what-the-hell-happened-with-the-effort-grade-look in his eyes.  He appeared to be getting ready, as he so eloquently put it, to “blow his stack”.  Proof of stack blowing was evident by the steam coming out of both of his ears.

My older sister stepped in first; he always started with the least of his troubles and worked his way down.  A few minutes later she exited with her signed envelope, smug smile, and copy of her Honor Roll Certificate to add to the rest of her suitable for framing accolades–why one of the rest of us didn’t trip her was beyond me.

The brother a year younger than me was summoned next.  Last quarter his math grade was God-awful and his teacher requested a conference.  When Dad discovered a couple of percetages on test scores were figured out wrong, he called HER mathematical skills on the carpet.  Had she added and divided correctly, his time wouldn’t have been wasted at this conference.

Needless to say, he made mincemeat of the poor math teacher, she was reduced to hives and started to hyperventilate–a severe asthmatic, she was able to catch her breath thanks to the aid of her trusty puffer.  The prince’s grade was changed and he was issued a warning: no more trouble with Mrs. Scratchy…there would be no chance of Dad attending another “conference”.

The last words of “get out of my sight” signified to the four of us that remained that his effort in Math class was not what Dad had expected.  The boy was instructed to get his act together or there would be consequences.

The younger sister stepped in next.  Like always, Dad yelled, she cried, end of story.  Lucky for her, the effort grades were always better than the academic…so she didn’t face quite the wrath that I was in for.

“JENNIFER ANN”, he bellowed.  In I stepped to face the music.  Way back in fifth grade, I started to figure things out.  I thought if I set the bar really low at the beginning of the year, the only way was up from the end of the first quarter forward.

Standardized tests issued the spring before proved as Dad would say, “what I was capable of” so the low bar standard rationale went right out the window.  There was no pleasing my Dad.  No matter what you did, he expected better.

My grades were mostly 5’s academically with 4’s in effort…hey, it wasn’t my fault I could diagram a sentence with ease–had a knack for spelling, and made some pretty good guesses in Science this quarter.  He wasn’t amused.

This particular quarter he had issue with my math grades; namely the 3+/2- combo I scored.  Eighth grade math consisted of this: Sr. Teresa took to her perch and shouted out “problems” to the students at the board.  We took our turn one by one, stepped up to the blackboard to figure out the answer under Sister’s watchful eye.  If the student got the problem wrong, Sister spent the next ten minutes making said student feel like a complete idiot in front of the seventy eyes and thirty-five chins dropped to the floor in front of her.

Every time I stepped to the board everything I learned went right out the window–and I froze…anticipating the scolding that was coming.  My grades suffered–and as you can imagine, Sister didn’t score the gal who stood at the board and wrote nothing very high in effort…hence the 3+/2- coupled with the buldging eyes indicating the stack was just about ready.

I was asked to explain myself.  I figured I had two possible angles.  Blame it on Sister’s teaching technique or claim everyone else did just as poorly.  I did understand last quarter’s lesson on probablility, so I figured I’d start with the first excuse and move to the second if that failed.  I liked the odds.

As I fought back “tears” I explained to my unmoved father that “she” was a terrible teacher who didn’t explain anything and yelled when we did not understand the problems in the lesson.  He didn’t even blink as he stubbed out one smoke and lit another–I knew before I finished the sentence this reason would be a major fail.

My crime?  I referred to a grown-up using a pronoun.  Calling Sister “she” was disrespectful in my Dad’s eyes.  He was always a stickler when it came to this rule.

I tried quickly to redeem myself–everybody did bad this quarter–hardly anyone got a 4 or a 5.  That proves Sister (I remembered this time) is a terrible math teacher.

That did it–he came up off the chair–spit coming out of his mouth as he yelled that he didn’t care about what everyone else was doing–he was responsible for me.  Much worse than referring to an adult with a pronoun was the dreaded “referring to what everyone else was doing”.

I stopped right there.  Apologized profusely.  Asked for forgiveness.  Promised to try harder next quarter.  I’d even ask Sister if there was any type of extra credit available.  Again, the man was unmoved.  He handed me the signed envelope, again mentioned his disgust along with standardized test scores from the previous Spring.   

I was no dummy, I got out of his sight before he blew his stack.  As I left the den, the two youngest were called in as a tag team.  I had exhausted him.

Cash for grades?  I was lucky to get out of that den alive.  The only incentive I ever needed to excel was sitting at that desk in the den.  Kids today don’t know how lucky they are.



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  • Wonderful! it brought back lots of memories!!!

  • So true...haha you paint a very vivid picture, as usual !

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