The magic of report card interpretation

I remember the first report card my first child received. It represented such a life-changing stage; our child, in school, receiving a report card. Magic. Twelve years later, it’s a little less magical than in the old days.

I have, however, built an interpretive legend over the years, to help me understand the gentle terminology that teachers use. This legend, along with the tried and true parent/teacher interview may guide you as you enter these report card years. I’ve compiled a few examples below, as a Report Card Primer for Parents.

The first thing to know is that nothing is exactly as stated. The adverbs in the report card software restrict the teachers’ choice of words and phrases, ensuring vague and strange report card dialogue. For instance, in Grade 1, the teacher wrote that my son “could make better choices on who he sat next to on the carpet.”

I had no idea what this meant, so I requested clarification which always comes, I learned, in the form of a parent/teacher interview. She shared, as tactfully as she could, that sitting next to his two best friends during reading time had turned him from a sincere and dedicated student into a gigantic, prank-playing, annoying goofball. Not only was he distracting himself, but he was also disrupting the entire class. The software clearly did not include the words “goofball” or “prankster,” but her dialogue was clear as a bell. Okay, I got it. Making better choices on the carpet equals sit at the front and pay attention to the teacher. Check.

A few years later, a friend received a report card in Grade 5 that stated her daughter “showed tremendous commitment to the health curriculum.”

She called me and we speculated on what this might mean. Again, the parent/teacher interview resulted in an insightful follow-up explanation from the teacher that, in fact, her daughter had been educating the other kids on private body parts and the names of each one for some time. This had been going on much longer than they had been covering the reproductive body parts in health class, but no one had managed to send the message quite so delicately and succinctly. No playing “doctor” with the boys under the play structure at recess. Duly noted.

My nephew, in his Grade 7 report card, was advised “to be giving more thought to the importance of carefully selecting compatible work partners.” I think this may have been related to a first term incident in which he and his lab partner had inadvertently set fire to their science lab station, with an innocent but highly flammable experiment concoction of household chemicals in a test tube.  I had to admire the teacher’s positive spin on this within the report card.  She also noted that his “enthusiasm for the science curriculum” would certainly have positive results in the next grade.

Immediately after the onset of puberty, the Grade 8 report cards take on new terminology that requires an entirely new legend in the parental interpretation guide, for report card comments like “frequently requires reminders to focus during instructional periods as he learns to balance social interactions with his academic responsibilities.” After nine years of report cards three times per year, I should have interpreted that one correctly, but I did go in to meet the teacher and clarify. My shy boy was no longer so shy; he was very popular with both peer males, and for the first time, female classmates. This novelty was so enticing that he wasn’t really paying any attention to school. Eyes up, son, pay attention and fly right in second term, or marks will suffer, was the straight translation. Got it.

High school report cards are much less fun, as teachers’ comments don’t have the same élan, and, of course, the marks are so much more meaningful, as they determine the path to higher education. The lessons from the elementary school days remain and retain value into high school and beyond:  focus on the work, not just the opposite sex, choose your friends carefully, and mind your manners, particularly around body parts. Don’t be a goofball to the point of distraction.

The magic may be gone, but the teachings remain good life lessons, whether reported on or not.

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