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Ask an Expert: My teen son only cares about sports.

Q. My teen son only cares about sports and thinks he can ignore homework and his teachers, and he’ll be a successful professional football player. Frankly, this isn’t a realistic aspiration for him. What can I do?

A. I was the typical kid who thought I was going to make money playing sports. I didn’t figure out until I was 19 or 20 that that wasn’t a possibility. I always use the word “student athlete.” The “student” part of the equation has to come first because the whole intent of school is to gain knowledge to get you out of here when you’re 18 so you can be productive – not only in America, but in society at large.

I don’t pretend to be someone I’m really not. I am able to relate with most of the kids who come in here. I open up to them, tell them what I’ve done wrong, what I got caught doing. Some of us learn from those mistakes; others don’t. You, too, can share your own experiences with your son – or daughter. Or enlist a trusted friend or relative.

It is very important that you talk to your child’s teachers and other support staff who are there to help you. At my school, we put a lot of time into meeting with students and their parents or aunts and uncles and working out issues through our Response to Intervention (RTI) process. I tell the student, ‘I’m not going to hire you without a high school diploma.’ We give them all the statistics about how much more money a person can make with a high school diploma or without, and with a college diploma.

It can be intimidating to sit down with teachers and administrators. Your own experiences with them when you were a teen may not have been positive. But it is important to remember we all – you, the parent, and us, the teachers and staff – want the same things for your son or daughter. We want to get our students through – no matter what their poverty level or family educational background is. There should be talk of college in every single household in this nation.

That may not happen unless you are involved in your child’s education. It’s important to be involved – and not just when things aren’t going well. You will have a much better experience dealing with school teachers and staff if you get involved during the good times, too. You can chat with teachers, or do some volunteer activities.

It’s not all about the parents. The teachers have enormous responsibility in this equation. We have educators here who tend to blame the student (or his background and home life) and we don’t allow that. That’s what our teachers are hired to do is to engage a student. All we can control is 8 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.

What happens outside of school is up to you. The single most important thing you can do is stay informed about what your son should be doing in terms of homework. Many schools in Colorado are tapped into “infinite campus,” which allows you to check your student’s assignments online at any hour of the day or night. If you don’t have access to a computer, talk to your son’s teachers about the best way to stay informed.

If your son fails to do an assignment or receives a poor grade, find out what happened. Listen to your son but also talk to the teacher. Did your son put in the necessary work? In many cases, I’ve seen parents only listen to their kids – and not the teachers – about what’s happening in class. Parents have so much trust in their child, they believe what they say, which is not always true. You do have power if your son is refusing to do his homework. Ask him, ‘Who pays the cell phone bill?’ Don’t be scared to take it away. There have to be consequences.

At Center High School, we have a ZAP policy, which stands for Zeros Aren’t Permitted. Students who fail to turn in an assignment must still turn it in, staying after school until they do it or coming to school early. They only get 50 percent of the grade, though. This policy has worked wonders to get students to turn work in on time.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.