3. Report Cards

Children get report cards. Teachers do them. Parents read them. Not me, though. I don’t have to put checks, numbers, and letters in the boxes, and I don’t have to write, “Mildred has been working hard to develop more self-control in class. I encourage her to keep up the effort,” or “Cedric responds to all challenges with intelligence and enthusiasm. It is a pleasure working with him.” Instead, I take a nap. I could be wrong, but I think most teachers envy this freedom (though some would ski rather than nap). There are so many sound reasons for teachers to hate report cards. I’ve isolated three of them, but I’m sure there’s more.
Reason #1: Human beings are dynamic.The report card is not dynamic; as the child grows, the report card stays the same.What a child does during a particular minute, day, week, month, season, lesson, unit, crisis, or good time may be untypical of the child, but if the timing is wrong, it ends up on the report card. Perhaps some day soon there will be dynamic report cards that change from day to day. As I think about it, it sounds a little like an improvement and a little like an Orwellian nightmare. Meanwhile, teachers have to summarize children and hope that the summaries have good effects.
Reason #2: There’s an awful lot of pressure to be perfect. It comes from some parents, media, peers, teachers, and others in people’s lives. We hear it as children at little league games. We hear it as adolescents, and we never outgrow it. Finally, we pass it on to our children. Since no one actually is perfect, no one escapes the effects of the pressure. Even the child who seems close to perfect is always afraid: What if I make a big mistake? What if they find out that I’m actually not so great? So every time a teacher mentions an area for improvement, there is the chance that a child and/or the child’s parents will feel like a failure.
Reason #3: Nowadays, many teachers believe in the cooperative approach to learning. It’s partly based on a hunch many teachers have had for years, but lately solid research is supporting the hunch. The competitive approach simply doesn’t do the best job. When children are motivated by the pressure to perform better than other children, they don’t do as well as children who learn together. Even children who seem to thrive on competition often do better without it. If you watch children who have just seen their report cards, whether in class or on the way home, you may see the competitive spirit at its worst. All the work a teacher may have done to deliver the message, “We’re all in this together” is suddenly at risk.
I don’t have an easy alternative in mind. Parents need to know how their children are doing in the complicated task of growing up. They want to know how they’re doing as parents, and how the teachers are doing as teachers. Most parents are too busy to spend a lot of time in the schools, and the question “What did you do in school today?” doesn’t usually yield much, even after an inspiring, successful day in school. Regrettably, report cards, so far, play a role. I think I’ll go take a nap.

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