Why we can’t say what we like in school reports…

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The following is taken from the Advertiser – on the 24th of June, 2015:

Words like “lazy”, “uncooperative” and “anti-social” weren’t uncommon on kids’ report cards when I was growing up. If you were rebellious, the teacher said so. If you dared backchat in class, or regularly failed to hand in homework, then your parents read about it in a personalised, handwritten school report. Drop the f-bomb or blatantly flout the school rules? Then you were busted, custard.

In 2015 however, I find myself wondering if there is such a thing as a “bad report” anymore. Do they even exist?

This week, parents (like me) will open our little darling’s half-yearly school reports. And chances are they’ll be so sterile, so bland, so terribly boring that we’ll struggle to make sense of what’s actually being said.”

Before delving into the issue at hand here, let me first start by saying that deriding students for their inability, inactivity, or choices in behaviour, is not what saves the world from a sterile, bland and boring existence…

Now why can’t we say what we want to in a report card any more? I believe that the chief reason is because if we want to say any of the following, as expressed in the Advertiser:

1. School report says: Spirited. Teacher really means: Your kid is a pain in the arse.

2. School report says: Keen to participate in group discussion. Teacher really means: Little Johnny talks too much. Shut your cake-hole and give someone else a go.

3. School report says: Satisfactory effort. Teacher really means: Has done the bare minimum.

4. School report says: Energetic. Teacher really means: Possibly ADHD and requires medication.

5. School report says: Creative. Teacher really means: Can’t follow instructions and makes a mess of everything.

6. School report says: Helpful. Teacher really means: Annoyingly so.

7. School report says: Is developing (eg: handwriting) skills. Teacher really means: Still can’t do it despite all the hours I’ve put in.

8. School report says: Took awhile to settle in. Teacher really means: We didn’t like each other.

9. School report says: Needs to settle when working with other teachers. Teacher really means: They don’t like your kid either.

10. School report says: I wish them well next year. Teacher really means: Thank god they won’t be in my class again.

then you should jolly well say it to the student and their parent face-to-face or over the phone. Report cards became something that a teacher could hide behind, a message to a parent that was like turning your back and flipping the bird over one shoulder as you look forward to two weeks without the need to return a phone call.

While there is a great many truths in that it is a minefield for teachers and we are under the most intense and unabated scrutiny I have experienced, we should also not be above the law of common decency, which is exactly what we expect of the students.

Unfortunately, time constraints of life in a school have got to a point where teachers cannot make these contacts regularly, and so rely on the mandated report mechanism to convey messages home to parents. Reports HAVE become bland, boring and devoid of any insight because they represent an archaic way of conveying the messages that teachers should be expressing, but, although archaic, they are also one of the few methods. The problem isn’t parents, the problem isn’t teachers, but rather the mechanism of reporting itself has not moved with the progress of society.

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One thought on “Why we can’t say what we like in school reports…

  1. I loved reading this because it offers a wondering directed towards (I want to say the future) but really we need to take this on now. I visit many schools in my work and I see great value in what many early years educators are doing and that is recording the learning as it happens daily with photos, student work samples etc and they are not showcasing best work but the real work. However many of them are thrill churning out the reports too. Much to think about here. Thanks for the provocation.

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