We need to tell the truth to parents about their children’s level of competency, right from the beginning of their engagement of our services. This is to be fair to everyone.
When telling the truth, we need to be objective and unbiased.
This is not the time to thumb down on their kids (“You know ah, Mrs Lee, your son is really very weak in his basics. I don’t think there is anyone who can help him… except me.”). We don’t need to add on to their worry or despair: they come to us because they know that they have problems. I hardly came across any parents who would delighted to talk about how weak their children are. In fact, I’d be very wary to take in their children because this kind of attitude signals something quite wrong with the parent-child relationships.
Also, this is not the time to be blinded by our love for the kids by glossing over all the glaring weaknesses we have noticed. If we paint a rosy picture, parents might see us as a saviour to their children and engage us straight away, but it also sets up unreal expectations for us and for the children. Not a good way to start a learning journey.
One objective way to assess a child in topic-based subjects like Maths and Science, is to let him do a past year paper appropriate for his level and the time of the year (for example, let him try a SA1 paper when he comes to us in June). Take note to instruct him to cross out any topics which he has not learnt yet. A quick review of this past year paper will tell us about his level of competency.
It is a good idea to take pictures of this past year paper and send a copy to the parents. This can serve as a basis of comparison after several lessons, to get a sense of the progress the child has made, or as an evidence to fall back on should the parents make complaints that we do not do a good job.
Some aspects of a child can only be observed after a few lessons. For example, whether he follows instructions dutifully, whether he is attentive or whether he does his homework. Feedback in these aspects will come later.
Once we have a firm idea about the child’s level of competency, attitude and behaviour pattern, we need to communicate to his parents as soon as we can. This is not to shirk responsibilities, but to seek cooperation and support from them to monitor their child. After all, we only get to see the child once, or at most twice, a week. There is only so much we can do during this short period of time.
If we have suspicions about the mental health or psychological health of the child, we must express our concerns to the parents as tactfully as possible. When we come from a place of love, concern and wanting to do the best thing for the child, parents tend to understand and be willing to work with us.
Tell the truth to our best abilities. Manage their expectations right from the start. This is only fair to ourselves, to the parents and to the children.