Building a Better Student: Straight B’s

cartoon report card with all A's

Amber is a high school student with a history of being academically challenged, primarily because of an extremely strong social gene. She’s what we used to call a social butterfly.

Now that she’s nearing the end of her secondary school career – and enough people have warned her of impending disaster – she’s trying to turn things around. Her friends are talking about college, and Amber is concerned that she’ll somehow be left behind.

So she announced to her parents at the beginning of the school year that she had set a goal for her junior year: Straight B’s.

When I heard about this, I was taken aback. On the surface it struck me as crazy that someone would actually shoot for second-best, rather than the best. My initial reaction was, “Why not at least try for an A?”

After thinking about it, though, I questioned if that’s really what it’s all about. And I realized that this could spark quite a debate.

Our culture is built around striving to win; as they say, nobody remembers who came in second place. So is it wrong for a young person to set a goal of B’s in school instead of A’s?

I thought about the fragility of confidence, and how it might affect this particular young woman. If she’s used to a C-average at best, would falling short of straight A’s demoralize her? Or is this an example of under-promising and over-delivering?

On one hand I want the student to try to knock it out of the park. Yes, I understand that her history has been checkered academically, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of success; it just never has been a priority for her.

At the same time, finishing her junior year with a B average would be an improvement, and perhaps set her up for greater accomplishments in her senior year.

As I flip-flopped back and forth, I also wondered if this sets a bad precedent, instilling in her an acceptance of the mediocre, of being satisfied with less-than-the-best. Is she automatically slotting herself into a space where she’ll never put enough effort into a project to achieve ultimate success?

It’s a difficult situation. How high is too high to aim? Where does the line between successful goal-setting and unrealistic ambitions start to blur? And what role does a parent play in this scenario? When your child tells you that they’re shooting for a B instead of an A, how do you respond?

As I write this week’s column I find that I’m still torn. Part of me is hoping that she’ll surprise herself and find that her B-average-effort parlays itself into an A here or there.

What do you think? How do you feel about a student setting a goal of straight B’s? And, just as important, how would you feel if everyone did that?

Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people embrace the idea that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who are concerned about the best path academically for their children.

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