I’ve had conversations about grades with three students over the past week. Each of them had at least one failing grade on their quarterly grade report. Each of them had “reasons” for the poor grades:
- I didn’t know I really had to turn in assignments. I know you told me, but I didn’t think it would really matter.
- My teacher didn’t tell me I was doing poorly.
- I didn’t go talk to the teacher because I didn’t know that was OK, back home we can’t do that.
- Back home I study for an hour each day, so I assumed I could do the same here. U.S. schools are so easy, everyone told me that.
- I didn’t think being a few minutes late each day would be a big deal.
The Honeymoon is Over
U.S. government regulations require that high school exchange students pass all their classes. Students often think this will be easy; many of them have the impression that all U.S. schools are easier than their own. They are often genuinely dumbfounded when a progress report arrives at their host family’s home with a D or an F in a given class. The exchange programs take failing grades seriously; in rare cases, a student may face an early return to her home country if she cannot pick up the pace.
The goal of those of us who work with high school international exchange students is to convince them that 1) yes, it is worth it; and 2) yes, they can do it. They are familiar now with their host family’s habits and general lifestyle. They know their town or city a bit, they know where things are at school. And despite those Ds and Fs – or maybe because of them – they better understand how the U.S. school system works.
The question now for the students I’ve spoken to this past week is not “what went wrong,” but “what are you going to do about it?”
Take Responsibility, Learn From Your Mistakes
So a message to students:
- Failing a class is not the end of the world. For international students, it’s not unusual to have some difficulty in the beginning of the year. But it doesn’t make students feel any better to know this. Failing may make you feel embarrassed or even worried. But you can take control. Go to your teacher, your host parents, and your program coordinator and ask what you can do to correct the problem.
- Own up to your mistakes. Then move on and figure out how to make things happen.
- Talk about what is bothering you. If something is wrong – whether it be a problem at school, or a problem in your relationship with your host family — no one can fix it if you don’t talk about it. Are you having difficulty with the material? Tell someone. Are you having trouble understanding a teacher who talks too fast? Tell someone.
- Your level of effort may matter more than your actual class grade. People will notice if you are working hard — and yes, your local program coordinator will notice, too. The U.S. government doesn’t want to send students home early – but it does want students to be ambassadors and representatives of their home country, and make a positive impression on U.S. students, teachers, and families.
Host Parents Can Help
As with our own children, communication with and information from the teachers and school contributes to a student’s success.
* Make sure your student’s teachers know he or she is an exchange student.
* Let all of your student’s teachers know you are his or her host parent and that you are open to hearing about how your student is doing at school.
* If your school has an online grading system, as many do these days, check your student’s account every couple of weeks.
* If you can help, offer such help to your student. Review his English essay, or offer some thoughts on the chapter he is reading about U.S. history.
* If your student needs extra assistance, talk to your program contact about having parents back home pay for a tutor.
If you know that your student is having difficulty in a class at school, you can better advise your student on what to do. Consult with your program liaison to see if he or she has some advice and together you can make a plan for your student’s success.
It Can Be Done
Of the students I spoke to this week, one understands now that spending an hour a day in study hall on homework isn’t enough. He also sees now that coming in late to class every day makes it hard for the teacher and disrupts class. Another has already talked to the English teacher to get some extra credit assignments. The third admitted she just thought it would be easy and so hadn’t really been trying very hard. Chances are they will all “get” it now. If not, we’ll keep talking. None of them are having difficulty in their host family or in adjusting to life generally. They just need to get over the hump.