The first semester has come to a close and families around the country are opening envelopes from schools with bated breath to see how their kids performed on a report card. When I was a kid report card days and conference days were the absolute worst for me. I was not a good student. Apparently I needed a stage in the classroom because most of the communication from school to home had to do with me distracting people in class, trying to make them laugh, or just flat out denying to do anything. During parent teacher conferences I was always smart enough to make sure there was a friend at my house or I was gone when my parents came home so they had a few minutes to calm down. As a Superintendent, I am a huge advocate for student led conferences. As a kid, the thought of that would have been met with… “are you out of your mind?” The conference would have felt like a debate with me trying to justify the “needs improvement” or often used “satisfactory” with no data to support why I ended up in that place. It didn’t help that my sister was flawless. 3 years younger, better grades, read at the same level, never got in trouble...she was (and still is) the real deal. My parents were great about not comparing us, but inherently the numbers and letters on those cards defined us...even if it was only for a day.
The reason this day scared me more than any other in school was simply that I didn’t know what was coming. I literally had no idea what would be on that grade report, but I did know it wasn’t going to be awesome. When the envelope was opened I would always try to point out the stellar S+ in Phy Ed or the 0 days absent, but that didn’t seem to change the conversation. Report cards shouldn’t be scary. They also shouldn’t be a surprise. It is our job as educators to keep parents and kids informed so when they receive numbers or letters that indicate proficiency (or lack thereof) there is no surprise. It should be a cumulative look at what has been done from an academic standpoint, but more emphasis throughout the term better have been spent on authentic feedback for the student to help them learn and grow. One of the worst things we can do to kids is give them a number or letter without first helping them understand why they are there, and second, identifying ways to improve it.
The other thing we can not do is label a kid based on a number or letter. The report paints a picture of what a child did during a specific time, by they do not define who that child is or will be. My mom told me a story of seeing one of my former elementary teachers in a grocery store after I had received my first principal position. This was 15 years removed from elementary school. She said to the teacher, “Guess what Joe is doing these days?” I’m sure the thought of the teacher was “Probably 5 to 10 somewhere.” When my mom told her I was a principal the look of surprise on the teacher’s face was probably worth all of the “Satisfactory” or “Needs Improvement” comments. My mom is 5 ft. nothing. I know she walked out of that grocery store feeling taller than anyone there.
In my first year of teaching I remember calling and telling her a story of a student in my class. The young man just wouldn’t listen. He would do everything he could to grab attention from the other students, didn’t complete his work, and seemed to always have a question. I didn’t know what to do with him because he didn’t fit with the rest of the class. I remember the frustration in my voice when I was telling her the story. The next day I got home from school and there was blinking light waiting for me on the answering machine (yep...you remember the answering machine). It was my mom and I’ll never forget the message. She said… “I thought I would share this with you...Joey has a hard time focusing in class. He doesn’t show interest in what we are doing. He has a hard time getting his work done. He has a hard time sitting still during work time.” The comments were from my 2nd grade report card. She followed it with “Joe, you turned out ok...give the kid a break.” I had forgotten that I was there for him...not the other way around.
Last week my freshman son came home and we opened the mail together with his 1st semester grade report. There were more A’s on that report card than I had cumulatively in 4 years of High School, no joke. Though I am proud of the work he does to attain these grades, they don’t define him. He is a phenomenal kid...regardless of what that report card says. My hope for parents and teachers is simple...the day the envelope gets opened should not be scary. It should not be a surprise. Most importantly, it should not define who your child is or who they will be. Sometimes we just need a little time. So...give the kid a break. Go Crickets.