The Dreaded Red Mark on Homework: It’s Not Really About You


Third grade has been a difficult transition for my girl K… and for me. Possibly for me more than her.

The year was difficult almost immediately. K has a habit of chatting with friends in class at inopportune times, and this year was no different. Just a week after school started, she came home saying she didn’t finish her work. She’d been talking too much and she missed recess because she had to finish her work. I immediately felt that K missing recess was a direct reflection of my parenting. I felt that her teacher was passively saying that, with each missed recess, “You didn’t teach your child to stop talking when she needed to and so, because of your parenting she is missing recess”.

As the school year went on, I found out that third grade is when teachers start to grade with letter grades. Before this, all we would see on my girl’s report card were Advanced, Proficient, Partially Proficient, or Unsatisfactory. I never saw a U, so I thought we were good.

“You didn’t teach her enough!” “You didn’t help her enough!”

Then, third grade comes along and suddenly my girl’s papers are peppered with red marks with big Cs or Ds scribbled on the top of her assignments. UGH! Looking through my sweet girl’s school work at the end of the week was sad! Each red mark screamed, “You didn’t teach her enough!” “You didn’t help her enough!”

K didn’t fail. I had failed. This was all my fault.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a co-worker of mine about how my little eight year old’s school year is going. Very quickly, that feeling I get when I see K’s red marked papers came back to me. “You didn’t help her enough” I was reminded of as I spoke. As I went on about K and my struggles with this school year, my co-worker furrowed his brow and stared straight ahead, listening intently on my words. I knew he was searching for a solution to my distress. I quieted my rant, realizing my voice was louder than it should’ve been in an employee lunch room. My heart was thumping hard; I was so frustrated just talking about my girl’s education.

My co-worker. My sweet, well-meaning co-worker, hummed, and then said, “You probably just need to be teaching her more at home.”

Ohhhh. My sweet, well-meaning, unsuspecting co-worker. My heart was already pounding and I was already angry just explaining this issue, but hearing that sentence was just too much for me to stand. “Are you kidding me?” I said. I shouted a “Whatever!” and a “Give me a break!” and topped it off with a “Please.” I scoffed. He started to explain himself, and I resisted the urge to walk out. Why is this bothering me so much? I asked myself.  Those things I tell myself and the shouts of the red marks on my girl’s school papers; I felt that in that moment they were solidified. “You didn’t teach her enough. You failed your daughter. You’ve caused your daughter to fail. It’s all your fault. You didn’t teach her to not talk in class. You haven’t been working with her enough on her homework.”

How ridiculously self centered am I? I made it so much about me. In comes the voice of my mom in my head, “It’s not all about you.” This is my girl’s life, not mine. And so, it’s time to set some reminders for myself.

  1. One failure does not equal total failure. There are things that my girl will not grasp as quick as another kid. There are things that my girl will understand much faster than another kid. They are all so different. She is struggling in one area, not all of them.
  2. Understand both sides of the story. When my girl is struggling with her grades, I immediately go to her. I try to ask very open questions that do not assume blame: “What do you think happened?” or “What do you think you have trouble with in class?” My girl is eight, and she is going to tell her story like an eight year old. Some details may be missed, and some specifics may be skewed. Now, once I hear her side of the story, it’s my job to touch base with her teacher to finish the narrative. I really struggle with this. The easy way out it is to assume that K told me every important detail that I needed to know. It’s difficult for me to reach out to someone I don’t know very well, but it’s more difficult to reach out to someone I don’t know because of assumptions I might have because of a story that was told to me by someone else. 
  3. You don’t know what you haven’t asked.  Assumptions are the worst.
  4. You are a piece to your child’s success and/or failure, but you are not the reason.  You are aiding your child in his or her success through encouragement, discipline, and love. Failure in one area does not mean that you failed in encouraging, disciplining, or loving. You can always be better, that’s just life. None of us are perfect at anything, but there are more influences on my children’s success and failures than just me.

These are struggles for me. I forget them all the time. I wrote them down in my journal to remind myself, but still I forget. I want my girls to be successful in everything they do, so it’s hard to watch them fail.  They will though.  I know that. But, I give myself the okay to feel sad when they fail and remind myself it’s not all about me. 

So tell me, have you gone through the homework blues?  Give me your tips.  I can always use more.


  1. Amber,
    I am so impressed with your 4 points. They are so true, and like many truths, so hard to remember. School,and home should be a joint venture with each supporting the other. But a very important thing for moms and dads to remember is that our main job is to love and support. Our children need to know that we are in their corner no matter what. They will forget those red marks, but they will never forget how much you love them. You are doing a great job, mama.

    PS. When I teach future teachers, I tell them to use another color pen besides red. Although red is my favorite color, it’s not very comforting when a paper is bleeding red. 😜

  2. Great writing, Amber. I’m sorry you feel this way, but guilt is the curse of the mother. 😉

    I’m going to say something that you probably aren’t expecting to hear. I don’t believe in homework. I don’t think that kids — especially elementary kids — profit from, nor should they have, homework. Think about it. You work a long day, you come home tired and frustrated. All you want to do is grab some dinner and chill out on the couch with a good book or a movie. Why should our *little* kids, after a long, hard day, be required to put in additional “work” hours? How do you feel on the rare occasion that you have to bring work home? They get that feeling three or four days out of every week. It’s just too much. The teachers have your children for roughly seven hours every day — that is plenty of time for them to teach.

    I think that you should spend your evenings having fun dinners, talking about the good things that happened at school, and then snuggling up with your babies and reading a book to them. Or have her read to you. Helping her to learn to love reading is going to benefit her more in the long run than getting A’s on worksheets.

    As for missing recess, that is completely appropriate. She *knows* not to spend time talking and to work instead, so the consequences of not behaving the right way means she loses out on fun time. Perfect. Let the teacher mete out the consequences; when K complains, you can just say “I guess you’ll do better next time”.

    You’re a GREAT mom, and your daughters are a reflection of that … even with a few red marks here and there.

  3. Ha! Yes, it might be easier for me to see blue marks instead of red! And you are so right, those sweet babies will forget the red marks, but will remember the love. Excellent points, Karen!!!

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