“A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.”
- This was according to The Missing Golden Ticket and Other Splendiferous Secrets, where the celebrated author Roald Dahl’ remembers how he was taken to task by by one of his disapproving teachers.
I have had my fair share of bad report cards. While I don’t clearly remember resorting to evasive, or simply duplicitous, measures (hiding report cards, changing letter grades, etc), I do remember being overcome by dread and loathing on the day report cards were distributed, and sincerely wanting to crawl into a hole where there were no grades or judgment to find me. What report card day meant in my house, was that inevitably there was going to be some sort of digressive talk – the kind of talk that was filled with rhetorical questions, but with very few answers. In my personal story, I don’t have any lessons of uplift or enlightenment to pass along, just coping skills to get through a handful of very uncomfortable and disquieting times.
Seeing as it is report card time for many (if not most) of the K -12 set, I felt inclined to start up a dialogue, of sorts, on the subject of report cards, and how they are received and/or dealt with. Ultimately, the report card is about two things for a child: approval and/or failure. Sure there are gray areas in between running the gamut from minor disappointment to relief, but the report card, however useful it may be in determining academic achievement and identifying trouble spots (for the parents), is a source of much anxiety and trepidation.
If the report card is bad, then it is fair to say that evasive tactics and procrastination will not help anyone, whether they are the parent or student. While the report card stands as an almost inarguable record of academic performance, the letter grades that fill the page are not the last word. A conversation between parent(s) and child (and sometimes it helps to get the teacher in there) is essential, but it should be a conversation, rather than a lecture or a forum to express dismay. Easier said than done, I know, but as parents, we must be sensitive to the fact that this sort of judgment (being hammered down from authority figures) has an emotional impact, regardless of how much of a screw up the student seems to be.
On the other side of the coin, there is the, seemingly less urgent, problem of too much acclaim and reward. A child who delivers the coveted report card with all A’s, and receives an overabundance of praise, will also receive a temporary boost of self-confidence, but might also internalize the achievement. Meaning, excellence becomes the standard, and intertwined with the identity of the child. Granted, this feels like a far more preferable problem to have, but still praise, like condemnation, can be a bit of a dangerous thing.
As might be apparent, I have no real answers, but am appealing to those of you who might. How do you deal with bad report cards in your house? How do you contend with good report cards? Is it fair to punish a child if expectations are not met, but they clearly tried their hardest? Does punishment ever work? Is there such a thing as too much praise when dealing with academic achievement? Is the report card just a symptom of a larger problem?