Grading Parents on Report Card Day


Report card season is meant as judgment day for kids, but in many cases it is the parents who come under scrutiny — most notably by the kids themselves.

How a parent reacts can bring a kid’s self-esteem up or knock it down, can encourage them to put forth more effort or to become complacent and can send strong messages about priorities, values and dealing with being judged.

In a Jewish community where academic pressure is high, keeping things in focus during report card season is essential. Positive and specific feedback, goal-setting and, above all, open communication — among the parent, the student and the school — is essential.

“When the report card comes the parent should ask themselves a few questions and have a good conversation with their child,” advised Ronni Ephraim, chief instructional officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). “The first thing you have to ask yourself is ‘do I have good communication with my school?’ and ‘what can I do as a parent?’ and ‘what can I ask my school to do better to help me understand where my child is before I get the news in the mail?'”

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, head of school at Temple Emanuel Day School in Beverly Hills, said most schools today see the report card as one part of an ongoing narrative of the child’s social and academic progress through the school year, with conferences, progress reports and as-needed phone calls or meetings laying the context for what comes in the mail.

But even if the grade comes as no surprise, seeing the concrete letter or number on an official slip of paper acts as an important moment in a child’s school year, and knowing how to interpret the grade is essential.

“If a child is far behind, you need to ask why,” Ephraim said. “Are they doing their homework, are they attending class, are they attentive when they are in class, are they working as hard as they can? Depending on those answers, the parent knows how to engage with the school and the child.”

If effort and assiduousness don’t seem to be the issue, look to things such as the child’s emotional and physical health, where she sits and what her learning style is and work out a plan with the school and the student to bring things to a better level, Ephraim said.

Mapping those strategies out before the report card actually comes can soften the blow of a bad grade.

Parents also need to be realistic about their expectations.

“A lot of parents want their children to do better then they did and are pushing them harder because of their own issues, but they are pushing past what a child is capable of handling,” said Dr. Deborah Cutter, a family therapist who has taught classes in positive parenting.

But when a child is performing below his capability, Cutter advised letting the child know that while you expect better, your support and love is unconditional.

“You want to have an environment where the child can feel comfortable communicating and that they understand that you are there to support them no matter what,” Cutter said. “You don’t want to put the child on the defensive, because they are not going to listen and just shut you out.”

Even when a child is doing well, let him or her know that maintaining that standard will take more work as the material gets more challenging.

“I think it is really important to celebrate good grades, but to always set new goals,” Ephraim said. “A grade is just a grade in time.”

Cutter said the old-fashioned idea of rewards for grades hasn’t lost its power.

“I’ve found that using behavior modification with children really works,” she said, for example, offering $5 or $10 per “A” for older kids or a trip to the toy store for younger kids.

Any punishments, Cutter said, should be a natural consequence. For example, if a child has procrastinated on a report because she was instant-messaging all night, limit computer privileges.

Schools are working to make sure that parents know more about what is going on with their children.

At Emanuel, marks are very specific, so rather than a generic math grade, children get marks in things like addition, subtraction and fractions.

Like many other schools — including LAUSD elementary schools — Emanuel has moved to a one-through-four number system.

LAUSD ties those grades to the standards set out by the state, so that if a child gets a four (exceeds the standards) or a two (partially meets the standards) a parent can go to and, and see what specific academic criteria the child is or isn’t meeting. (Colleges expect letter grades, so high schools are still on the A-F scale.)

Going from letters to numbers also reduced the number of marks from five (A, B, C, D, F) to four, eliminating the default grade of C.

“You are either meeting or not meeting standards,” Ephraim said. “The middle-of-the-road grade was taken out.”

Whether report card day means a celebratory dinner or lots of slammed doors, Ephraim advises parents and kids to keep things in perspective.

“We have to be sensible about it and know that these kids have a long life of grades ahead of them, from kindergarten, through high school and even in college,” she said (speaking more as a Jewish mother than an educational professional, she admits). “We have to be careful about how we react to those grades in a way that doesn’t harm their self-esteem and at the same time that doesn’t let them be lazy. It’s a fine balance, and that is what parenting is about.”

How To React — and Not React — to Grades


• Don’t compare kids to their siblings or classmates.


• Feedback should be specific (nice work figuring out adding fractions), not general personality assessments (you’re a math genius).


• Point out what a child has done right along with what he has done wrong.


• Reward effort and incremental change, not just bottom-line grades.


• Keep communication open and don’t put the child on the defensive.

The Perfect Woman

One of the greatest mysteries in my life, besides how to program my Tivo, is why it’s taking me so long to meet my soulmate.

After all, Los Angeles is filled with hundreds of thousands of women, maybe even millions, looking for their soulmate. And I’ve had coffee dates with seemingly most of them. You’d think by now we would have run into each other. Perhaps we’ve passed each other on the way to coffee dates with others who are wrong for us. That makes me sad.

Granted, I did not appear in People magazine’s most eligible bachelors issue — I guess they didn’t receive my photo by press time. Still, what am I, chopped liver? I’ve got all my vital limbs and organs. Original teeth. Original hair. Fairly decent personal hygiene. Gainful employment. Far more attractive than the Elephant Man, and capable of cooking an omelet in a single bound. Take that, Orlando Bloom!

So, what is it? Am I being too picky? I don’t think so. I mean, it’s not like I’m asking for the moon and the stars. My place doesn’t have room for them anyway. All I want is someone who’s reasonably attractive, preferably brunette, not yet collecting Social Security, with a slender to athletic figure, who’s a nonsmoker, eats healthy, regularly exercises, has a sense of humor and fewer than nine cats. There should be a few women like that in Los Angeles, wouldn’t you think?

Of course, as with any fully evolved human being, I’d expect her to be optimistic, enthusiastic, energetic and creative — not to mention considerate, affectionate and passionate. And, of course, I wouldn’t say no if she turned out to be giving, flexible, romantic, spontaneous and communicative. Considering the fact that this person will hopefully be my life partner, is all that really too much to ask? I’m even willing to help with the intensive training on the affectionate and passionate parts.

All the above qualifications would naturally be the absolute minimum I’d expect, for her to even be in the ballpark of consideration, which is located just a few miles from the soccer fields of possibility. Additional icing-on-the-cake qualities might include trust, commitment, sensitivity, intellectual curiosity and a love of intimacy. Aren’t these things everyone wants and deserves? I mean, come on, folks, this is basic, Relationship 101 stuff, isn’t it? Hello? Operator, I think I’ve been cut off!

Am I being absolutely out of line to expect my romantic partner to enjoy Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and vegetarian food? Is it crazy to think she should be fond of big band, swing, classic rock, classical, folk, blues and rock music? Am I really stretching things to expect that she’ll join me in biking, bowling, hiking, jogging, swimming, tennis and weight lifting? And that she won’t say no to movies, plays, bookstores, comedy clubs, poetry slams, museums, concerts, walks and exploring ethnic restaurants and festivals?

Am I being outrageously unrealistic in having these kinds of expectations? And please don’t misunderstand — I’m not looking for a carbon copy of myself. I just want someone who shares most of my interests and traits and beliefs about a romantic relationship. It’s not like I’m not flexible or don’t accept people’s differences. If she doesn’t enjoy playing Scrabble, that’s fine. She probably has some hobby or interest that I’m not into as well — such as Parcheesi or the Republican Party. As long as she’s Jewish.

Even if my potential soulmate has just 50 percent of the above attributes, I’d be thrilled and consider myself very lucky. And I can’t help but noticing that that percentage figure seems to be shrinking as time marches on. Catch me in five years and it should be down to 10 percent. Five years after that — if she’s breathing and female, it’ll be fine with me.

OK, forget all the above. I’m basically looking for someone who’s nuts about me and vice-versa. And if she turns out to be a Tibetan yak-herder obsessed with barbecued pork and Yoko Ono music — well, she’s my dream girl!

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional
stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He
can be reached at

Damaged Goods

Have you ever noticed how people who buy a newspaper from a coin-operated rack tend to ignore the top paper, and dig down for the second or third copy?

It’s basically an attempt to get a more pristine copy, for fear that the top copy may be damaged or missing something. Many folks grab their fruit from the supermarket pile in the same way.

Such habits can often appear in the dating world, too. Of course, people want someone unmarried and therefore available. But if the person has been unmarried for too long, the doubts creep in: What’s wrong that person?

It’s not an unreasonable question. After all, the usual course of action is to get married in one’s 20s or 30s. And while it’s become more common for people to stay unmarried well into their 40s and beyond (and, of course, some never marry), many people find that hard to deal with.

“I can’t believe you’ve never been married!” is something I’ve heard a number of times lately. The comment does not seem to reflect “You’re such a prize, why haven’t you been snapped up already?” but rather, “That’s so abnormal. What’s wrong with you, anyway?” The unspoken suspicion: Damaged Goods.

There’s no real easy answer. I never expected to be in my late 40s in this way, and am certainly not against being married. In fact, the idea is more appealing now than when I was younger. I’ve had some lengthy relationships, and was even engaged briefly. But the situations weren’t right, with some key differences that weren’t able to resolve to both parties’ satisfaction — in other words, not Happily Ever After — and the various dates along the way were, simply put, not the right people to marry.

I’ve known and dated some fine women, as well as some that were way wrong. It’s the usual slow process of kissing all those frogs (or frogettes) and trying to find the right person — it’s just that more time has elapsed in the process than the norm. It’s easy to begin to feel freakish. My consolation is that in my age bracket there are lots of others in the same boat, and we don’t feel so freakish among ourselves. Usually.

Those of us in our upper 40s to mid-50s came of age at a time of changes in social patterns and expectations, questioning of established habits and confused personal explorations. For example, in my high school class, “The Prom” was looked upon with far more disdain than generations before or after — it was too uncool for the Woodstock era. Dorky, even. Getting married and having babies was even somewhat alarming for those who matured as Earth Day started up and global overpopulation reached consciousness.

About half the women I’ve dated in the last few years are “Never-marrieds.” Almost all of them had the chance — they were either engaged or involved long-term relationships.

Sometimes they regret that they didn’t marry so-and-so. And most of them still like the idea of getting married. But there is comfort in knowing that someone else is also a Never-married, that the insinuations of abnormality from friends and relatives are cushioned by the numbers of other singles in similar circumstances.

All this isn’t to say that the thought, “What’s wrong with you?” doesn’t come up even within Never-marrieds, or that it doesn’t sometimes have merit. There are plenty of mama’s boys, spoiled princesses, neurotics, obsessive-compulsives and so forth. Of course, there are plenty of those types who did get married, too. (Just ask their spouses!)

But there are also many decent singles who simply haven’t found the right person. Maybe their job was unstable, or their career was building. Or their looks won’t get them into any Abercrombie & Fitch ads. Or there was a dependent family member needing caretaking. Or they lived in Palmdale and nobody would date them. Or they saw marriages that ended badly and became gun-shy.

Plus, it’s just so difficult to meet decent people, especially in the West, with so much individuality and car-bound isolation. Many speak of Jewish singles events with dread, full of people either too withdrawn, or too phony and aggressive. JDate? Many people aren’t honest in their online profiles. Synagogues? Not very encouraging to singles. Special-interest groups such as for hiking? Good to meet another hiker, but there’s so much more to finding a soulmate.

Grabbing the wrong person just to say you’ve gotten married might’ve been a course of action a generation ago. But most singles today would rather retain a bit more hope, more money and fewer lawyers — and wait for a better situation. Or a dog.

And so the search goes on. And on. And time goes by.

Steve Greenberg is an editorial
cartoonist and artist in Ventura County who contributes cartoons and
illustrations to the Jewish Journal. His e-mail is

Building Up

When I heard his voice on my office voice mail, I knew right away that I’d like him. My girlfriend in San Francisco had just left
a message forewarning me of this eligible divorcé’s phone call.

"He looks like JFK Jr.," she raved.

Though he was extremely geographically undesirable, I decided to keep an open mind.

"Golfboy" (he was addicted to the sport) sounded fabulous on paper: Smart, funny, well-traveled and athletic, he had Midwestern roots and was divorced with no kids (like me), just the right age (three years my senior) and even had two little white dogs (I have one myself) that he cherished. In no time we started to e-mail each other daily, playing a never-ending round of trivia. E-mails were also supplemented by amusing phone conversations where the repartee flowed smoothly.

Golfboy lived in and was raised in a decidedly WASPy milieu. Between the nonstop golf at the country club, a family that celebrated Christmas, an older brother who was a "Jr." and a last name that was unbelievably WASPatized, I wondered if he would or could ever be Jewish enough for me. Conversely, knowing that his first wife was a blonde non-Jew made me contemplate whether this guy could be attracted to me in all my Semitic splendor.

After about three weeks of some sort of daily communication, I arrived at work and received my dream e-mail: My knight in shining armor-to-be was coming to Los Angeles! For an entire weekend? Uh-oh. Two nights and two days with a man that I’ve never even laid eyes upon? Not even a photo? I decided to put my faith in my friend and let the weekend date fall as it may.

As the days grew closer to Golfboy’s impending visit, the e-mails became more and more endearing.

"I can’t wait to see your pretty mug," he gushed. "I have a really good gut instinct about us," and similar sentiments.

I was definitely curious to meet him and loved his enthusiasm, but I wondered, could I ever live up to the image he had created in his mind? I tried to downplay my expectations.

"He’s building you up so much that you can only come crashing down," cautioned my mother, aka "Mrs. Right." "Since when does a 44-year-old, successful, straight man have trouble meeting a woman in a city full of gays?" she inquired.

Yet as the days to our big date grew closer, I noticed I wasn’t alone in the game of high expectations. Many of my friends were being set up and meeting men on the Internet and getting sucked in quickly by this insidious "build-up phenomenon."

They’d have a few great phone conversations and e-mails and then I’d hear, "I’ve met my future husband. I just have such a great feeling about this!"

Is it possible for us mere mortals to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground until we meet these guys in person and get to know them? Or must we immediately project our fantasies and create these perfect men that we so desperately want to meet?

These thoughts competed with my excitement on the day of the date. My excitement turned to nausea and my heart dropped into my stomach as I dialed Golfboy’s room at the Peninsula Hotel (classy!) from the lobby, just as we had planned.

No answer. Did he change his mind?

I turned around and there he was: Not exactly JFK Jr. (who is?) — more like a Jewish George Hamilton sans fake tan. Still, he was cute enough; and anyway, wasn’t I interested in his personality?

But my heart dropped again — this time in disappointment, not nervousness — when I caught his first look at me. It was a look that said, "Less than thrilled."

What did he expect? Bo Derek on the beach with cornrows in her hair? I thought that I had described myself fairly accurately as a Julia Louis Dreyfus type — petite, long curly hair, etc.

That weekend, we stuck to our agreed-upon schedule of activities (hiking, dinners at fine restaurants, massages at the hotel, etc.) and got along famously, as I knew we would. Although he was the consummate gentleman, sadly, it hardly was the amorous weekend that I had hoped to have. As much as I had tried to avoid the build-up phenomenon, it had hit me, too.

I was rather appalled by his perilously high level of self-disclosure (did I really need to know that he has issues of abandonment with his mother on our first weekend together?) and disappointed that throughout the entire weekend he barely made me laugh.

As I dropped him off at the airport knowing that I’d never see this man again, I realized that my mother was right. How could two people who had been fantasizing and building each other up for so long ever satisfy each other?

Next time around, I’m not going to get carried away: Fantasies are great, but there’s no room for them in the brutal world of dating.

Elizabeth Much is a partner with Much and House Public Relations, where she
runs the entertainment division. She can be reached via e-mail at