Math teacher reflects on parent involvement


Alina Abidi

Joe Kim

Each week in Joe Kim’s AP Statistics class, usually in the middle of block day, students see a list of numbers. Their eyes scan up and down the list, locking in on their ID number, checking their grade on the most recent test or quiz, seeing how they stack up among their classmates. There are no letter grades, but students generally know where they stand, how much they need to climb, how far they have to fall. When they get their papers back, some silently celebrate, smiling down at the shiny sticker on their test. Others aren’t so fortunate. They flip through the paper, mentally scheduling when they can retake the test, wondering what went wrong. For some of these students, there’s another person, or two, that play a large role in each grade and want to have a place in the conversation.

Some parents want to meet in person to discuss poor grades, going through the test themselves, even staying after school for 45 minutes to do all the problems, but Kim sees mostly emails. The math teacher reflects on contact he’s had with parents about students’ grades, and offers his best advice for them.  

Do you have a lot of experience with parents contacting you?

Around sophomore, freshman year, there are a lot more [emails] than in Stats or from anyone who’s a senior. A lot of begging and pleading. Sometimes [parents] are a little aggressive, wanting to look at tests and quizzes and see if they can squeeze out any extra points.

How often do you get emails? You mentioned that in Geometry, you get about two a week.

I’d say it comes and goes in spurts depending on the type of parent and student. If the parent has been very, very involved with their child, and especially parents who are their tutors, they tend to get emotionally more invested in their success. If their child failed, it feels like they failed.

What kind of grades do the children of emailing parents usually have?

This year in Geometry, it’s been mostly C and D students just trying to pass — very rarely do I see any A students or B students. But when I was teaching [Algebra] 2/Trig and Pre-Calc, those are the only students I would get: people who are at 89’s. If they’re at a C, they already know. They’ve given up, they’ve conceded that they’re getting a C. But those students right on the borderline, it’s usually the first time they’ve ever gotten a B…It’s a culture shock.

What do you think students and parents should do?

Talk to the teacher, but do it early. That’s actually the best tip that I can give to students and parents. If you do it too late: A. There’s not much you can do. I’m a math teacher — the numbers don’t lie.  You can’t go backward and change time. B. Teachers generally don’t show a lot of sympathy near the end. You should have already talked about it.

I’m a math teacher — the numbers don’t lie.

Math teacher joe kim

Have students talked to you early and succeeded?

I’ve had students start off with an 80 or a 75 and asked for guidance on how to study, and they ended up with an A. If you’re getting a C and you want to get an A and you’re not doing anything about it, that’s mostly on the student to do something about it. The teacher can only do so much — I can’t take the test for them.

Which students succeed? 

The ones who succeed normally have an intrinsic desire to succeed, but that usually comes from the parents. It’s a combination. I’ve seen students where they’re completely unmotivated, but their parents are super, super motivated. But rarely have I seen students who are motivated and their parents are unmotivated — I never see that.