Getting An “F” Senior Year. Does It Matter?

My college bound son received an “F” in Physics on his final report card.  We received this information two days after he “walked” and received his high school diploma.  His father and I were both shocked that he had allowed this to happen.  He was a smart boy.  He knew how much energy and effort it would take to get an A or a B.  And if he was unwilling to put in that much effort, he at least knew how much time it would take to get a C, to pass the class.  It never occurred to me, or his father, that he would just blow off the class completely.  Not with college on the line, not with the amount of effort and expense he had invested into getting into a good school, the school of his choice.

But we were wrong.  And in a way, he was right.  He could ignore the requests from his teacher to turn in his homework, to complete his class assignments.  His teacher called his bluff and failed him.  But what happened? NOTHING!  He was still able to graduate with his class!  He was still going to his chosen University!  How could this be?!

His father and I discussed this phenomenon and although we were relieved that he had graduated, and would be going to college, we agreed that the wrong lesson was being taught.  We agreed that we had one last summer to impose consequences on our son, who still seemed to think his actions or inaction was “no big deal.”

The bigger issue for us was the manner in which he chose to deal with the challenge.  He wasn’t doing well in the class, then he got sick, got really behind, and then, at that point, decided to do nothing.  To ignore.  To deny.  He told both of us repeatedly that he was on top of his school work, that he had everything handled.  But clearly he did not.  Our concern was his reaction, or lack thereof to the problem, because there would always be another.

It is funny because his school has a parent portal.  A way to check on your student’s progress every day.  Every missing assignment, every grade, every paper that is due.  I looked at this portal regularly Freshman year, sporadically Sophomore year and stopped entirely Junior and Senior year.  He needed to manage his own school work.  I needed to allow him to develop the necessary skills to go off to college, to own his own decisions.  But then, the “F”.  No, he wasn’t ready.  Yes, we needed to step in and require consequences.

These were the conditions that we set for the last summer:

  1.  No car.  No friends.  No socializing.
  2. Write a letter to his teacher apologizing for his complete disregard for his class.
  3. Take a summer physics course to be completed before school starts in the fall.
  4. Research all resources available at his University and send us a letter with this information.
  5. Write a paper on the benefits of failing.

He is sitting beside me now, taking his on-line physics course.  I am hopeful that next time he chooses to ask for help.  I am hopeful that he recognizes the gravity of his decision to ignore.  I am grateful for the opportunity to teach him one more lesson before he goes.

5 thoughts on “Getting An “F” Senior Year. Does It Matter?”

  1. This is amazing parenting. So strong. I don’t know many parents who’d be capable of levying such a wave of significant and constructive consequence.

    Two questions:

    1. If he failed a class, how was he able to graduate?
    2. What would happen if he refused to abide by the conditions?

    Thanks again.

    1. Thanks Sam. How was he able to graduate? I have been unable to talk to his school, but plan to speak with them once summer is over.(I have several issues I want to address with them.) I assume he had enough credits and the physics class was an “elective” in the sense that he had already fulfilled two science requirements. He had several vacations lined up this summer that were immediately revoked. He has earned two of them back so far, and the other two will require completion of the Physics course. He has finished six of the eight sections thus far. With regard to the other conditions, he has accepted them. I am hoping his article on “The benefits of failing” will make a guest appearance in this blog!

  2. Trina, very good recap of a common attitude adjustment and lesson! Grades do count and learning is more important especially math and physics. Your boys are lucky to have such a smart, capable Mom!!! I learn something from you every visit.

  3. This has nothing to do with your son; your story just reminded me of this. IOW, I’m not judging you or anyone else. P.S. Awesome consequence skills, particularly having him pass an online class AND writing to the teacher. I never would have thought of that. Antway, my son also took physics senior year, but we knew he wouldn’t do so well. His interests/ skills lay in writing and making movies. He has asperger’s and he was taking physics because he wanted to make sci-fi movies. So we talked to the teacher to make sure he would graduate if he failed the class. The teacher said as long as he showed up for class, he would get a D, and would graduate. I proud of him for taking a class because he was interested in it, not to keep his GPA up. Sure enough, he did get a D. And he did graduate. And he made a speech at graduation to cheers and a standing ovation.

    1. The big issue for us was his decision to do nothing in the face of a difficult situation. There were so many opportunities to ask for help from us, from a tutor, from his teacher, from his older brother. He did the opposite. He continued to tell us he had everything handled and allowed the situation to spiral down to his eventual failure. He has the skills to pass, but chose not to put in the effort required. It was disrespectful to his teacher to ignore his class, and a complete misjudgment on his part to think his father and I would accept such behavior.
      I applaud your son for challenging himself to a difficult class, and you for recognizing the value of the experience over the letter grade.
      Thank you for the comment!

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