Home >> A Issues >> Columnists >> Barreca >> Prescient Report Cards

Search form


Education Humor
With Regina Barreca

Prescient Report Cards

It's a daunting task, isn't it, to write up end-of-the-term commentaries about our students? I'm sitting here with 30 term papers to grade, six letters of recommendation to write, and yet I know full well that my paperwork is nothing compared to the prospect of having to write what my friend Claire calls "practically a novel"about every one of her fourth-graders.

"The parents of my students expect deep psychological insight in addition to academic assessment," she sighed. "You can't just write the kind of things we used to get on our report cards."

I'm concerned. Have things changed so much? I remember getting report cards at the end of every quarter. I remember them saying things like:

  • Plays well with others
  • Participates in class
  • Pleasure to have in class
  • Occasionally disruptive
  • Must learn to wait her turn
  • Must learn to raise hand
  • Vivid imagination

These my family translated, fairly accurately, into the following more nuanced observations:

  • Spends a lot of time talking to other kids
  • Spends a lot of time trying to get the teacher's attention
  • Is funny
  • Is sometimes not funny
  • Tries too hard to get the teacher's attention
  • Tries WAY too hard to get the teacher's attention
  • Lies

Claire is bitter. "Are you kidding? That doesn't work anymore and hasn't worked for years. Now you have to script a mini-series for every Emma and Ethan. Claire's usually lyrically calm voice starts to rise. I have to respond to more questions than I'd need to answer to get a job at the C.I.A. If I had my first husband answer these questions before we got married, we'd never had gotten married, and I could have skipped that divorce."

I tell her she's exaggerating. She then tells me the questions, and I agree: if individuals were assessed in each of these following categories before entering into a long-term relationship, we could, as a nation, cut the divorce rate in half:

  • Cooperates
  • Sensitive to the feelings or differences of others
  • Accepts limits
  • Demonstrates responsibility
  • Listening skills and oral expression
  • Speaks in complete sentences
  • Attentive to topic
  • Follows oral directions
  • Has age-appropriate vocabulary
  • Recalls facts/information accurately
  • Articulates clearly
  • Work habits
  • Organizes time
  • Works independently
  • Completes tasks
  • Initiative and self-motivation
  • Understands concept of more and less

Claire and I have known each other since we were in fourth grade, and I can tell that she's about to start going over the top and is about to become disruptive herself. "Gina, you don't get it. School isn't the way it used to be. Teachers are assessed on our assessments. You have to say fabulous things about every kid. YOU CAN'T JUST SAY 'YOUR KID MAKES HOUSE PLANTS SEEM NOT ONLY ACTIVE BUT POSITIVELY INTERESTING' OR 'SHE WILL NEVER LEARN TO WAIT HER TURN, EVER. THE KID WAS BORN WITHOUT PATIENCE. JUST START SAVING FOR SERVANTS.' "

I buy Claire a glass of wine, and she calms down.

Perhaps I should clarify: it's hard to write sincerely interested, personally invested, and seriously detailed evaluations of kids who, by this point in the school year, we most sincerely, personally, and seriously want to lock in the supply cabinet until the final bell rings. While I'm writing "You need to explain why Virginia Woolf finds it imperative to dismantle the social expectations historically applied to women, in light of the changes brought about during World War I," Claire is trying to interpret the following comment for a helicopter parent who is concerned about her child's lunchtime habits.

"My mistake was in letting the mom know that her child said the following: 'Look what she did. She gave me a banana, and she knows I hate bananas.' I included it because the mother wanted feedback -- you should pardon the expression -- on what her daughter was getting in her lunchbox. I thought the line was pretty amusing. Now I am having long discussions about fruit with this lady. The best thing I came up with was explaining that her daughter also liked to pretend that she brought pizza for lunch and divided it for her friends. I suggested that this meant she was good at fractions and spatial portioning. I brought in math. The mom was happy."

"What do you say when a kid is a bully?" I asked Claire. I write something like, "Perhaps he should allow his classmates to make decisions, such as deciding not to allow Alphonse to duct-tape them to their swings."

Having driven Claire home, I decided to avoid my own work by trying to find my old report cards. I found one, from the second grade, and was amazed by the prescience of the commentary. Perhaps these documents are of value, after all. Every observation, written in the tiny, neat script teachers still had in the early 1960s, still applies to my life. For example:

"Gina has a great deal of ability and is capable of doing work above grade level. She constantly challenges herself, and everything she does must be a big production. She is very aware of detail and sees things that others miss, although this occasionally causes her to seek more personal attention than the other students receive, which can frustrate her."

[My mom's response: "We will try to help Gina learn to accept her role in class. We are sorry that she takes up more time than she should."]

Next entry:
"Gina continues to do fine work and is trying hard not to take everything so seriously, although she does cry in class when she can't master a task the other students seem to complete with ease. Gina's sense of humor helps her return to a sense of balance quickly, however."

[Mom: "I am sorry Gina is so emotional. She does have a sense of humor, it is true, and makes us laugh at home. We will try to get her to calm down."]

Next entry:
"Gina's sensitivity can be a problem because she wants the other children to laugh with her but they do not always get or appreciate her humor, which can frustrate her, although her teachers can often see the joke. She is doing her work with great care and is learning to be less of a show-off and more of a class-clown. I think this is a step in the right direction for the most part."

[Mom: "I am sorry that Gina is oversensitive but glad to know you think she is moving in the right direction and getting good grades."]

Last entry:
"Gina is well prepared to do fine work in the next grade if she can keep her sensitivity at bay and her sense of humor under control. She is a hard worker and tries hard to please."

It was like finding a report from a psychic. From a script-writer for the mini-series of my life. Of course, teachers have to write these reports, I decide, and call Claire to tell her -- even though, of course, I am trying hard to please her even as I know it's a step in the right direction.


Article by Regina Barreca
Education World®
Copyright© 2008 Education World