Report Card Time

Who could ever forget?

The day is near.  Fingers are crossed.  Hopes are high.  Boys and girls are holding their breath, awaiting the verdict.

It’s report card time.

It’s a time of triumph and glory, defeat and failure.  Some cards will be paraded proudly through the front door, held high and waved as banners of victory.  Others will be secreted in.  Those will be ultimately discovered, scrutinized, dissected, and analyzed by disapproving parents whose vocabularies will quickly expand to include words like “grounded” and “tutoring.”

Report cards are nothing new, of course.  They have been around longer than blackboards and chalk.  The master of the one-room schoolhouse carefully filled in reports  for reading, spelling, arithmetic, citizenship, elocution, and penmanship.  Kids who failed to measure up could expect extra chores as well as extra homework.  

Although most schools today employ computers to print report cards, they still require a great deal of time and thought from teachers.  The old-style cards left spaces for “comments.”  This is where the teacher could write a few notes about how the student was behaving in class and how well he/she was cooperating and doing homework lessons.

The computer does not allow for such personal remarks on modern reports.  There is, however, a long “menu” of comments which may be selected by number.  Some of the choices include “A pleasure to have in class,” “Not completing required work,” “Doing excellent work,” “Not working up to ability,” and, the one dreaded by children and adults alike, “Parent conference desired.”

As much as students dislike report cards, teachers probably like them even less.  A teacher’s job would be much easier and less stressful if report cards could be eliminated.  They take a lot of time and thought to prepare.  They also unleash a torrent of phone calls and questions.

The common expression from teachers to students is, “I don’t give you grades.  You earn them.”  That is true, but, alas, it is not as simple as that.  There is still some agony involved on the teacher’s side.  

It would be so nice and easy to give everyone “A’s.”  How wonderful that would be for teachers and students alike.   The kids would be happy.  Their self-esteem would rocket through the roof.  Parents would be ever-so-pleased.  The principal would be delighted.  The school board would be ecstatic.

Of course, it wouldn’t work any more than if we gave every bowler a perfect 300 score or an Oscar to everyone who appeared in a movie.  Awards, honors, kudos, medals, trophies, and grades don’t mean anything unless they stand for hard work, effort, and true accomplishment.

Teachers, therefore, must strive to provide students and parents with the most accurate evaluation possible.  It is a difficult decision.  A teacher realizes that, to a certain extent, he has someone’s fate in his hands at report card time.  In early grades, a child’s happiness is certainly on the line (at least temporarily.)  A poor grade might mean no pizza, extra chores, or loss of privileges.  On the high school level, the stakes are higher.  A teacher realizes that a low grade could ruin a student’s chance for a scholarship or admission to a desired university.  

These factors, of course, should not affect the mark on the report card.  They simply make the teacher realize the importance of accuracy in determining a student’s grade.

Teachers and counselors usually dread the few days after report cards are issued.  Telephone volume increases dramatically as parents, somehow kept in the dark about grades for nine weeks, are suddenly shocked into action.   Assignment sheets, homework diaries, and unplugged television sets become the order of the day.

On report card day, students put on their best poker faces as they meekly approach the teacher’s desk.  “Can you tell me how I got this grade?” they ask innocently.  It’s a little game they play, carried on since the first kid got his first report card in a cave school somewhere.  

I have had students who asked me to figure their grade every day.  They seem to think that if they ask about it often enough, or with just the right emotion, the grade will somehow magically rise like the sun on a summer morning.  

Bless their hearts.  We can all sympathize.  We have all been receivers of report cards.  We may still have them, too.  But we are smart enough to keep them hidden away, unable to be used as evidence against us.