Last week was Report Card Day. The day when all of learning seems boiled down to a few letters of the alphabet and a lot of competition.
When I was in high school, I was all about the competition of grades. I wanted to do my best, and I wanted my best to be better than everyone else’s. Receiving my report card, seeing my gpa, checking in with the guidance counselor to learn my rank among the list of my classmates produced a rush of endorphins.
I vividly remember standing in the little alcove of my dorm hallway in college, holding the beige phone in my hand, its long spiral cord hanging loosely beside me. I had called to ask a professor – Had she graded my exam yet? Did she have my final grade figured? It was an 88%, a B+. My first B since my first quarter of my freshman year of high school. Two points away from an A. I walked back to my dorm room and cried.
Perspective – Mine was a bit skewed. Pressure – I put way too much on myself to be perfect.
Now I’m a mom, and I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve learned a lot about learning styles and multiple intelligences and a variety of strengths. Now I know that report cards are not the be-all and end-all of education. Learning is not always summed up in a letter grade or gpa. And class rank is not a measure of intelligence or value.
There have been times I’ve fallen back into those old ideas, the old pressures. Last year, when my oldest was a freshman in high school, I logged in often to check her grades on the parent portal. She was struggling in one particular class that the school had decided would be taught online in a virtual classroom. That method was not matching her learning style at all, and her grade was reflecting that. I may or may not have freaked out every other day – Do you realize this affects your gpa?! Every grade in high school counts! It was weird; each time I checked parent portal, my voice rose an octave. Finally, Lauren said – Of course I realize every grade affects my gpa. You remind me almost every day. And ummm Mom, maybe you shouldn’t check parent portal so much. It seems to upset you.
And she was right. So I stopped checking parent portal. Because I cannot seem to use that tool responsibly and sanely. I become CrazyMom when I log into that thing. I regress, forgetting all the wisdom I have gained and the values I really hold.
In the past several years, my children’s report cards have varied widely. Sometimes, I’ve had to assure a child – I know that grade does not reflect how much you really know, how smart you are. This grade just shows that this teaching system doesn’t match your learning style. This grade shows that the system is failing you, and I’m going to figure out how to help you. Other times, we’ve celebrated achievements and improvements.
Usually I struggle to find the balance of how to praise the straight-A student without making another child feel inferior. So I’ve settled on praising the action or attitude behind the grade – Good job for working so hard! . . . I’m so proud of you for setting a goal and meeting it! . . . I can tell you are doing your best! Great work! This way, the focus isn’t on the actual grade, but on the child’s heart and work. Because that’s what I really value. I want my children to do their best, to work hard, to improve, to learn. And that isn’t always reflected by an A on a report card.
I have actually applauded for a C on a report card – You did your very best & you earned that C with hard work! Yay! Last week, when two of my boys brought home report cards with mostly A’s and a B or two, I cheered (with tears in my eyes) – Look at this! These grades represent how far you’ve come, how hard you’ve worked! I am so proud of you!
Of course, there have been the C’s that represented an incomplete assignment or two (or three), a Zero or two thrown into the grade mix. That’s not OK with me. Not because it results in a lower letter grade, but because it means my kid didn’t try, didn’t do his or her best. So again, I try to keep my comments focused on the attitude and action behind the grade – This isn’t really OK because it shows you didn’t do your best. It’s not OK to just not do your work.
Report cards are just one tool to help measure how a student is learning. I try not to give report cards a higher place of relevance in our lives than they deserve (which is why I don’t pay my children for A’s). I know the system; I know the gpa matters when we’re thinking about getting into college. But I also know the gpa isn’t a measure of my child’s value or intelligence, and I don’t want to emphasize it enough to enable my children to believe that lie. I know the truth – if my children are doing their best and if they are meant to go to college, it will all work out. Life isn’t a contest about who can earn the best grades and be ranked highest and go to the most prestigious college.
I don’t want one of my children sobbing hot tears into her pillow because she made a B in general psychology the second semester of her freshman year in college. And I don’t want my daughter to take an easy class to earn an easy A and not learn a daggone thing instead of taking a challenging class, learning a boatload of new things, and earning a B or C. And I certainly don’t want any of my children to feel less than or dumber than because of a letter of the alphabet on a piece of paper.
How about you? How do you help your children keep perspective when it comes to grades and report cards and gpa’s and class rank?