Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Nov. 20, 2017
How to read a report card
By Phil Spears, Head of School
As we close the first trimester this week and head off for the Thanksgiving holiday, we look forward to sharing news of your child's progress on report cards in early December. I will never forget the first bad grade I ever got on a report card. It was in Ms. Oswalt's advanced middle school math class. I had wrongly thought I was an excellent math student, but I was really just strong at computation. Once I was required to tackle some abstract algebraic concepts for the first time, I struggled mightily, so much so that I pretty much stopped trying, glossing over my class work and homework. I did everything I could to hide my poor math grades from my parents at home.
When that first report card arrived at my house -- via snail mail -- I was scared for my Dad to see it, as I hated disappointing him. (I was the preacher's son.) My Dad stared at the report for a long time in silence. Finally I couldn't stand the quiet, and I said, "Well, what do you think?" Reverend Spears smiled, looked up at me and quietly but seriously replied, "What do you think, son? They're your grades." I was shocked when no lecture or consequences followed, and I have been grateful to my father -- then and now -- for teaching me in just a few words a simple lesson: I needed to own my education. My learning and grades, and my triumphs and failures, were not his; they were mine, and I was responsible for motivating myself. I did not suddenly become a fine middle school math student. Indeed, I struggled most of that year in math. But I tried harder, and even though I preferred to use the right side of my brain in high school (for English and history), I was able later to successfully navigate and sometimes(!) enjoy classes like trigonometry and physics.
Are grades important? Yes. And we should and do encourage and push students to improve, not only academically but in all their endeavors, and we pause at appropriate moments and honor academic excellence in grades 7 and 8. It's also important for us to remember as parents that that these lower and middle school years are primarily about the development of good habits and skills, the process of gradual growth and improvement in mind, body, and spirit. Slow maturation of children can frustrate adults who care about them and who want them to fulfill their potential sooner rather than later. The journey from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood is a marathon, not a sprint.
This is a crucial reminder as we get ready to send our first report cards of the year in a couple of weeks. The most important thing students can do is take rightful pride in the areas where they have done well, and simultaneously digest carefully the narrative teacher comments and strive to implement suggestions for improvement. K-8 report cards are important insofar as they are a reflection of the aforementioned, developing habits and skills; but once a young person has moved onto high school, his or her K-8 reports will never be seen again...