One of our kids is normally the type that makes parent-teacher conferences fun. Academics come easily to her and her teachers love her. So I was surprised, at a recent conference with her English teacher, to learn that she had not turned in an essay that was already two weeks overdue. It was a major assignment, final grades for the quarter had to be submitted just two days later, and a zero on that paper would drop her grade by at least a whole letter.

This was out-of-character for my daughter, and I called her immediately to ask her about it and let her know she needed to drop everything else and finish her paper ASAP. She did stay up late to finish it that evening, and turned it in the next day.

She got an A on the paper, an A in English on her report card, and glowing remarks from her teacher.

I was more than a little surprised. This was 7th grade Advanced English. That class was supposed to represent the highest standards and expectations that the middle school holds. And there were no consequences whatsoever for her disregarding the due date of her assignment and turning it in more than two weeks late.

Obviously things have changed a bit since I was in 7th grade. I clearly remember my teachers explaining the various grade deductions that increased relative to how overdue an assignment was – regardless of the quality of the work. Unless you were in the hospital with appendicitis or at your uncle’s funeral, late was late and you paid for your procrastination.The system was the same in principle from elementary school through college. It was one small way we learned responsibility, and that our actions carry some weight and have consequences.

My 7th grade class did not have the option of seemingly unlimited test-retake options, flexible due dates and copious extra-credit opportunities.

Dear teacher,

I do not want my child thinking that there will always be an easy, no-consequence way out when she screws up, and that circumstances will always mold themselves to her whims. That doesn’t at all reflect the reality of adult life that she is now preparing for. 

Please don’t be afraid of raising your standards and expectations. My daughter, like so many of your other students, is capable of more than what you are asking of her. If you raise the bar, she will rise to it. She can shine and soar, but she needs a strong framework to grow in, not one that bends with every broken rule and missed deadline. 

I’m trying to raise a responsible adult. One who knows how to show up to work on time, give her best, and be confident in her abilities as well as realistic about her limitations. An adult who knows that she is capable, and that her wholehearted efforts are valuable and worth being proud of.

But if you reward sloppy work, how will she learn to do her best? How will she learn what she is actually capable of? How will she learn how to function confidently and successfully in the more demanding world of adulthood?

Please work with me to give her the support and encouragement to become her best self – as well as the kind but firm reminder that slacking off doesn’t pay.

And by all means, don’t reward halfhearted effort with an A. 

If she’s earned an A, give her one. If she’s earned a C, give her one. If she’s earned an F – call me.