Should I Be Upset About This Report Card?

by Bill Brenner on November 18, 2011

I’ve gotten word that a reader and dear friend was upset over last week’s post, “Reading Between The Lines Of A Bad Report Card.” She shouldn’t be.

Mood music:

She said that she would never have sent such a bad report card to her adult child. I think she was also upset at the suggestion that my parents weren’t paying adequate attention to me back then.

I don’t mind, though. In fact, I’m happy to have that old report card. It put things in perspective for me. It was a snapshot of a difficult time. I used to get angry when thinking about those days. I had a lot of hate in my soul over it.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I think everyone did the best they could with the tools they had back then. The problem was that the tools weren’t that great.

But everything turned out fine.

Below is the original post. Have a look and tell me if you would be upset if such a report card were sent to you.

And to my friend: I appreciate your reaction to the original post very much. Yours is a friendship I treasure, and I don’t want you to worry about this one. Hence the sequel post.

Reading Between The Lines Of A Bad Report Card

My mother found my fourth-grade report card the other day and mailed it to me. On the surface it shows a chronic C student who doesn’t give a damn about anything.

But when I read between the lines I can see exactly where my 10-year-old head was at.

If you look at it on the surface, you see a straight-C student who occasionally sinks to a D in social studies and math. On the back of the report card are comments each quarter from my teacher, describing me as a kid who puts no effort into anything.

My first thought on reading it was that this teacher didn’t like me, and that the feeling was mutual. In reality, I don’t think she disliked me. I think she saw a kid adrift and was trying to scare my parents into a more rigorous study routine at home.

Unfortunately for her and me, she wasn’t the type of teacher who was going to get through to me. She took the academics very seriously, but did little to appeal to the more creative side of me. Teachers before and after her would have a lot more success in that regard. She didn’t get me and I didn’t get her. A troubled kid needs nurturing personalities to intervene.

Even as an adult who has enjoyed a fair amount of career success it’s the same:The more nurturing bosses get more out of me. The ones who shove a 13-point plan in my face and tell me to do it get nothing but trouble. Luckily for me, I’ve only had a couple bosses like that along the way.

I have been both types of boss myself, and I’ve found that most people do better with supervisors who are nurturing souls.

In the 1980-81 school year at Theodore Roosevelt School in the Point of Pines, Revere, Mass., I needed a lot of nurturing.

My parents divorced in the summer of 1980 and it was not a civilized, amicable process. The yelling and instability sent me on to such soothing pursuits as lighting things on fire and shoving the garden hose into an air vent on the side of the house.

I was also sick most of the time with Crohn’s Disease. If you look at my attendance record, there’s a 20-plus day absence in the fourth quarter. That was for one of my extended hospital stays. I missed the class picture shoot that spring, which is probably for the best. I wasn’t a pleasant site.

 

Erin was pained to look at my report card. She never got grades so consistently bad. She felt sympathy for the teacher, who was obviously trying to get my parents’ attention. But in the raw wake of divorce and the illnesses me and my older brother suffered from, they obviously were distracted. I don’t blame them.

I suppose I should have felt sad looking at the report card, but I don’t. I see it for what it was — a snapshot of a difficult period of time. I survived it, and turned into an excellent student once I had a couple years of college under my belt. I would argue that despite it all, I turned out just fine.

What makes me even happier is that at least to date, my children do well academically. Duncan has some ADHD-related challenges, but his grades are mostly good and he has a heart I didn’t have at that age. That heart will take him far.

Sean is currently the same age I was when I brought home that report card. He’s razor-sharp academically, though like me at that age, he often rushes through his homework, the most notable evidence being his sloppy penmanship. We can work with that.

I’d like to think that their better academic luck reflects that we’re giving them a good home life — better than mine was, at least.

To me, the big lesson is that when a kid brings home a bad report card, it’s not enough to just look at the grades and brand the student a success or failure based on the letters and numbers alone.

There’s always a story behind the grades, and taking the time to know the story is key to helping that child going forward.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sue December 1, 2011 at 3:46 am

Sadly, this card was sent to you for a different reason. It was sent to let you know that the teacher….not your parents had no idea. You were sick…. She didn’t get it at all. You were and are very smart and no-one even doubted that. At least no-one in your family. As for your parents… They may have disliked each other but they both loved you very much and did pay attention to the school contrary to what other people might think. You were going thru all you could to get well. That was what your parents were focused on. Not a teacher who had no clue. I think the card is funny because look who you are now. Amazing and smart. That says it all.

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