‘Tis the season…for report cards.
This past week, all four of my children came home with school report cards, and for the first time, they were all relatively pleased with what was written on them. As a parent, it is a delicate task to interpret the school report card, especially in front of my child.
I am never quite sure what to expect when I first glance down at the columns of numbers, letters, codes and comments. But, having done this for some 12 years, I have developed some strategies. First of all, I find the absolute best grade or comment and then I read it aloud after, of course, having already pre-read it. Then I praise them for their efforts, and I ask how they felt they did, what they liked best and so on.
This way, the conversation starts off well, and then we go through the whole report. I always pre-read the entire thing before hand. This is especially true of my elementary/primary school children. My teens read their own reports long before I ever get a glance—they know what’s coming.
What do you do when your child doesn’t perform at the level you hoped he or she would, or rather could? This is the situation we have found ourselves in time and time again. It is a challenging and delicate situation. My husband was an A-B student, an A athlete (the B’s happened when he was more focused on his sports). I was an A student in elementary school. I went to school reading, and was always in the bright kids’ group. I wore glasses, still do, and I wasn’t good at all at sports. I was sadly always second last picked for any of the school teams for gym class. The last kid picked was always the super-loser. I never managed to slip that far. Socially, I was a ‘special’, but more than made up for that in high school. My grades in some classes were top, others… I repeated the class. Some of the math and physics and chemistry were difficult, very difficult for me. I also know that I did not apply myself in any rigorous way at all in those classes. When I did, as in Biology, I did well, top-o- the-class well. I finished high school with meagre grades that didn’t warrant university entrance. I waited a year working dumb jobs and entered as a mature student at the ripe old age of 18.75 years.
My question with my own children is how can they have such academic difficulty? My daughter does her homework every day after school. She cares immensely how she does in school, and she likes her subjects and her teachers, and her classmates. She knows that she struggles compared to most of the other children. She too is in a special group; her group gets extra help with a teacher in the library one day a week. For this I am grateful. They don’t make her feel dumb, or outside the group, or in any way less than the other kids. She’s not. She is an A athlete, an A artist, an A social organizer and a good musician, but she has trouble with reading, writing and math, the three key markers of academic success.
So, when I look at my daughter’s report card, what I see is a list of Gs, g for good work habits. This is all that really matters to me, (I remind myself of this); the grades will follow. In her case it is two C, three C+, one C-, and an A. My daring got an A in Art, and she beamed with pride. Big hugs little girl. Once she is fully able to read and knows her number facts, those marks should rise to C+ or a B-, so long as her work habits remain good, the marks will follow.
When the A/ B+ teen slips from G work habits to S (satisfactory), the resulting grade is a C or worse a C-. These are still passing grades, but not acceptable, and we tell our son this. The grades are for incomplete assignments or missed assignments. No excuses there. Pull up those socks. But when a C from this same child is connected with a G for good work habits, as he got in Math, then we praise him for his efforts and for working through this tough course. It helped that I had met his teachers in November at the parent-teacher conference night at his school. She was able to tell me that he was doing everything right, from doing his homework, asking for extra help, and re-writing quizzes that he had done poorly in. She told me it’s a tough course, and he is a focused student doing his best. He’ll get it, but it is work on his part. This conversation helped to explain his report card and his progress. He’s gone from a near pass, to a C and this is good—G for good.
I have one more child to report on, barely six months to go until he is legally an adult, but in many ways our child who has struggled with school since the beginning, but high school has been the bane of his existence for several years. He came home beaming with his report card (as beaming as he beams for a 17-year-old). And when I read it, I saw no ‘I’ for incomplete, and no Fs at all; this was a first and I was as thrilled as he. He even got one G for good work habits in English. Good for him. He will pass this year as it seems that he has turned a corner. We stick with him through his challenges and are honest with our assessment of his achievements. But in all honesty, he doesn’t need us to explain how or when he’s messed up, when he’s wasted his time, or that he really needs an education—grade ten at the very least; this he knows. But the report card shows relative success: he’s attending school every day, he is passing all his classes, and doing well in one of them. Good for him.
I wish that my kids had an easier time of their academics, as seeing them frustrated or struggling is hard for me as a parent. But they don’t struggle in everything. Though I struggled with Calculus in my grade twelve year where other student seemed to just get it, I didn’t become less of an adult, nor a less accomplished person because of it. My spouse was a strong student, an honour student, and I remind him that it isn’t merely a case of working harder or working more, some of us are not naturally academically gifted in all areas, some aren’t gifted at all in academics. This is a reality that as a young educator, I railed against insisting that we are all equal. Now, as a mature educator and parent I know that we are all equal—as human beings, but we are not the same. We don’t have the same skills, talents, interests, challenges or dispositions. Sometimes I need to remind myself of this, especially as a parent.
In life, we don’t officially evaluate attributes and achievements with grades, as we do in school. These are also markers of success, and they show themselves in many other ways, but we have decided not to mark these qualities, if we did, my daughter’s report in life would look something like this: enthusiasm A+, trustworthiness A+, helpfulness A, humour B+, generosity A+, empathy A, dedication A, general fitness A++, beauty (heaven forbid that society would notice such a thing—she says with more than a hint of sarcasm in her typing)A, and finally in Social organizing or group building, she’d get an A every time. But we keep these notes to ourselves as society does notice these things, but the recognition does not come in the form of a letter grade on a report card, it comes with life satisfaction and community. Parents who read report cards need to keep this in mind; it’s helped me as I try to help my kids discover their own strengths even strengths that non-academic and not to be found on a report card.